C. perfringens is a rod shaped bacterium that is known to cause food poisoning to travellers abroad. The illness is characterised by an incubation period of 12 to 24 hours followed by stomach cramps and diarrhoea.
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Food that is prepared hygienically in accordance with the "WHO guidelines on safe food preparation" should not cause food poisoning. Package holidaymakers who are diagnosed with C. perfringens should seek compensation from their tour operator.
C. perfringens does not produce a toxin when it is multiplying in food stored at warm temperatures abroad. However, when food is eaten the bacteria forms spores and at the same time endotoxins which irritate the intestines causing severe diarrhoea.
A spore is a rounded body formed when conditions for growth are poor. Spores can resist very high temperatures and high levels of chemicals what would normally kill bacteria. The process by which travellers become ill is not the same as infective food poisoning but it does have similar characteristics. The organism is an important pathogen of man which is also responsible for gas-gangrene and cellulitis as well as food poisoning.
Your illness symptoms will include abdominal pain and diarrhoea and they will certainly be severe enough to spoil your holiday. The disease is usually self-limiting, only supportive therapy is needed, although if hydration levels especially in the elderly or debilitated victims it can have more serious effects.
Outbreaks of food poisoning are often associated with large-scale catering of the type found in buffet restaurants at all inclusive hotels abroad.
Problems can arise with advance preparation of large quantities of food such as casseroles, which are difficult to cool rapidly before storage. There is a 2 hour window where foods like this should be cooled and slow cooling can result in the rapid multiplication of cells.
Bacteria are commonly found in the intestines of man and animals and in the soil, resulting in the contamination of meats and vegetables respectively. Cooked meat, poultry, fish, minced meat dishes, pies and gravies and other food produced in bulk all provide excellent conditions for growth.
The bug is normally brought into hotel kitchens on raw meat. The spores of C. perfringens are not destroyed by normal cooking methods so cooked meat may be contaminated. Spores can withstand boiling, steaming, stewing or braising for up to 4 hours.
Flies and bluebottles are usually heavily infected with C. perfringens. It can also be spread by food handlers infected with the bug particularly if they do not wash their hands adequately after visiting the toilet.
A typical chain of events leading to an outbreak of illness at a hotel abroad would involve caterers replenishing food by mixing new hot food with old which has already been left standing for a long period of time.
Foods which are suitable for bacterial growth should never be kept warm under tea lights. If they are not served immediately they must be kept hot, at a temperature above 63°C, or cold, at a temperature below 5°C. Otherwise C. perfringens from either raw meat or from soil on vegetables which survive the cooking process as spores will geminate, grow, and rapidly multiply.
It is difficult to avoid food poisoning as most contaminated food does not look, taste or smell differently than safe food. Travellers are advised to check travel review sites and solicitors reports to avoid hotels known for outbreaks of holiday illness.
If you are booking your hotel early you have plenty of opportunity to see what previous guests have said about the food and hygiene standards.
If you have suffered from an illness on a foreign package holiday and suspect food poisoning you may be able to claim compensation provided you can prove that the hotel or your tour operator was to blames. Holidaymakers diagnosed with a bacteria form of food poisoning such as C. perfringens, salmonella, campylobacter etc. are likely to have a genuine claim.
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