Foodborne illness outbreaks resulting from Clostridium perfringens were often large and caused substantial morbidity from 1998 to 2008, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Julian Grass, MPH, a surveillance epidemiologist at the CDC Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch, and colleagues presented the findings in Atlanta at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases 2012.
"Our finding that meats are by far the most common vehicle of C. perfringens outbreaks speaks to the need for proper cooking, cooling, and hot holding of these foods," Grass told Medscape Medical News.
"We thought it was particularly interesting that outbreaks peak during the holiday season, when people tend to gather in large groups to eat foods such as roasts, gravies, and poultry that are cooked in large batches or prepared ahead of serving," he added.
According to the researchers, C perfringens is estimated to be the third most common cause of foodborne illness in the United States, causing 1 million illnesses each year.
Restaurants, the most common setting of food preparation, were responsible for 44% of outbreaks. Other settings included catering facilities (19%), private homes (13%), prisons or jails (11%), and schools (4%).
About half of the outbreaks were attributed to a single food commodity; of those, beef was implicated in 46% of the outbreaks. The next most common causes were poultry, which caused 30% of outbreaks, and pork, which caused 16%.
In all, 91% of outbreaks with an identified single food commodity could be attributed to meat or poultry products.