According to press reports, the City of Evanston said Merle’s BBQ Restaurant was the source of a recent food borne illness outbreak that caused 30 people to get sick. The Evanston restaurant was catering parent/teacher conferences at Haven Middle School on Feb. 16, and people reported falling ill shortly after. The Evanston Health Department investigated the incident and concluded that poor handling of the food was the likely cause of the outbreak.
“The outcome of the investigation revealed unsafe food handling and temperature storage at both Merle’s BBQ Restaurant and Haven Middle School and it is therefore unlikely that the exact cause of the outbreak will be determined,” said Evanston Health Director Evonda Thomas.
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 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 Clostridium 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.