The Post Independent reports that Colorado health officials have confirmed that the 80 people who became ill after attending the Rifle Rodeo early this month were stricken with a foodborne illness.
Garfield County Public Health announced the state lab’s findings late Wednesday afternoon. Since the June 5 rodeo, the county and state health departments have had a team investigating the outbreak, using “nurses, licensed food inspectors, regional and state epidemiologists and the laboratory staff,” according to the county.
“Lab samples sent to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment came back positive for Clostridium perfringens – a leading cause of foodborne illness,” according to a county press release. “The illness is contracted from consuming large amounts of the bacteria, creating a toxin in the intestinal tract causing abdominal cramps and diarrhea.”
Several people posted on the Post Independent’s Facebook page or emailed to say they had eaten pulled pork sandwiches at the event.
County public health officials said last week that no food inspections, which are normally required at such public events, occurred because the department was not informed about food being served at the Rifle Rodeo, which was held at the county fairgrounds.
“The Rifle Rodeo is a privately organized event. It should be noted that this particular food vendor has a primary location that has been inspected, is licensed and is regulated. In the case of the Rifle Rodeo, temporary event and coordinator permits were not submitted, therefore Garfield County Public Health was not aware of or able to inspect food at the event prior to the June 5 outbreak,” said Yvonne Long, executive director for Garfield County Public Health.
“One thing that we want the public to know is that for public events it is the coordinator’s responsibility to find out and comply with the rules, regulations, permits, sales tax requirements and licenses required to host an event,” she said.
Clostridium perfringens are bacteria that produce toxins harmful to humans. Clostridium perfringens and its toxins are found everywhere in the environment, but human infection is most likely to come from eating food with Clostridium perfringens in it. Food poisoning from Clostridium perfringens is fairly common, but is typically not too severe, and is often mistaken for the 24-hour flu.
The majority of outbreaks are associated with undercooked meats, often in large quantities of food prepared for a large group of people and left to sit out for long periods of time. Because of this, it is sometimes referred to as the “food service germ.” Meat products such as stews, casseroles, and gravy are the most common sources of illness from C. perfringens. Most outbreaks come from food whose temperature is poorly controlled. If food is kept between 70 and 140 F, it is likely to grow Clostridium perfringens bacteria.
People generally experience symptoms of Clostridium perfringens infection 6 to 24 hours after consuming the bacteria or toxins. Clostridium perfringens toxins cause abdominal pain and stomach cramps, followed by diarrhea. Nausea is also a common symptom. Fever and vomiting are not normally symptoms of poisoning by Clostridium perfringens toxins.
Illness from Clostridium perferingens generally lasts around 24 hours, and is rarely fatal.
The Type C strain of Clostridium perfringens can cause a more serious condition called Pig-bel Syndrome. This syndrome can cause death of intestinal cells and can often be fatal.
To prevent infection by Clostridium perfringens, follow the these tips:
- Cook foods containing meat thoroughly
- If keeping foods out, make sure they maintain a temperature of 140 F (60 C)
- When storing food in the refrigerator, divide it into pieces with a thickness of three inches or less so that it cools faster
- Reheat foods to at least 165 F (74 C)
“Clostridium perfringens.” Illinois Department of Public Health. Available at http://www.idph.state.il.us/Bioterrorism/factsheets/clostridium.htm.
Rohrs, Barbara. “Clostridium perfringens.” Ohio State University Extension Family and Consumer Sciences. Available at http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/5000/5568.html.