Clostridium perfringens is from the family of Clostridia, and as a family, they’re obligate anaerobes, meaning they don’t require oxygen to thrive, in fact, they’re better off without it.
Anaerobes, clostridia included, tend to lack the enzymes catalase or superoxide dismutase, so oxygen is actually toxic to them.
In nature, they thrive in deep, compact soil, and when they feel the stress of fresh oxygenated air, they often produce spores, which are extremely resilient to the environment, and can even survive cooking.
When conditions improve, for example, when food is slowly cooled or stored, the spores can sprout into full-fledged Clostridia.
In fact, at an optimum temperature, Clostridium perfringens has one of the fastest growing rates of any bacterium! In the lab, when doing a gram stain, Clostridium perfringens is Gram-positive, or purple when Gram stained, and look like big cylinders or rods, also called bacilli.
Clostridium perfringens is a common cause of food poisoning, in fact, it’s sometimes called “the cafeteria germ”.
That’s because it typically infects food that’s prepared in large quantities, and then kept warm for prolonged periods, such as in cafeterias or buffets.
Clostridium perfringens are found in the environment and they can accidentally contaminate food when it’s been left out for a while.
If a person eats food contaminated with C. perfringens, the bacteria will soon colonize the gut.
Within 24 hours, the bacteria starts to make clostridium perfringens enterotoxin, or CPE.
The CPE specifically targets the tight junctions that connect epithelial cells lining the intestines to one another.
When the tight junctions get destroyed, it causes inflammation and compromises the structural integrity of the intestinal wall.
Fortunately, CPE is heat labile, so prolonged cooking at 72°C or above will inactivate it.
And that’s one reason why freshly cooked food is best to eat - the other reason is that it’s simply tastier that way!
But uncooked food - like salads, or reheated food - like leftovers, can be a good home to Clostridium perfringens.
The symptoms of Clostridium perfringens enteritis include abdominal cramping, watery diarrhea, and vomiting.