The findings from the investigation of a foodborne outbreak that sickened dozens of teachers at Roosevelt High School in Des Mosines, Iowa in late October were released by the Polk County Health Department and showed that Clostridium perfringens was detected in several person’s stool sample and in meat served at the luncheon.

Polk County, Iowa/David Benbennick
Polk County, Iowa/David Benbennick

The Polk County Health Department worked with Des Moines Public School officials, the Iowa Department of Public Health, the Department of Inspections and Appeals and the State Hygienic Laboratory to investigate the outbreak.

They interviewed 103 sick and well teachers and staff, including those who attended the lunch and those who did not. They also interviewed patients and ill food handlers, and tested stool samples and food samples. Two outside caterers provided the food for the luncheon.

A specific point in the food preparation and handling process could not be identified as responsible for presence of C. perfringens.

Clostridium perfringens is a type of bacteria that can be found in a variety of foods, particularly meats, meat products, and gravy. Emetic toxins produced by Clostridium perfringens bacteria are characterized by intense abdominal cramps and diarrhea which begin 8-22 hours after consumption of foods containing large numbers of those Clostridium perfringens bacteria capable of producing the toxin. The illness is usually over within 24 hours but less severe symptoms may persist in some individuals for 1 or 2 weeks.

The CDC estimates that C. perfringens causes one million cases of foodborne illness annually.