How Monitoring Temperatures Can Stop the Spread of One of the Top 5 Causes of Foodborne Illnesses

Date Posted: November 26, 2019
How Monitoring Temperatures Can Stop the Spread of One of the Top 5 Causes of Foodborne Illnesses

In July 2018, Clostridium perfringens, a foodborne bacteria, made hundreds of people sick after they ate at a Chipotle Mexican Grill in Powell, Ohio.

Though less well-known than other bacteria like Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens is actually one of the top five germs that cause foodborne illnesses according to the CDC and something to definitely be aware of. 

Like Listeria monocytogenes, food temperatures play a huge part in stopping the growth and spread of Clostridium perfringens.

Here’s how.

Clostridium Perfringens 101

Before we dive into how monitoring temperatures can stop the spread of Clostridium perfringens, let’s define what it is.

Definition

Clostridium perfringens is an anaerobic, Gram-positive bacteria that can form spores and cause infectious diseases like diarrhea, gas gangrene, and food poisoning.

These spores produce toxins called enterotoxins that they release into intestines.

In case you’re not familiar with some of these terms, we’ll quickly break them down:

Common Sources of Clostridium Perfringens 

You can find Clostridium perfringens in sources like:

  • Soil
  • Sewage
  • Human and animal intestinal tracts
  • Food sources like gravies, meats including beef and poultry (especially raw), pre-cooked foods, and dried foods

Food Poisoning from Clostridium Perfringens 

If you’re infected with food poisoning caused by Clostridium perfringens, you’ll most likely experience symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, and stomach cramps that set in within 6-24 hours. Symptoms usually last less than 24 hours.

Anyone can contract Clostridium perfringens food poisoning, but very young and elderly people are the most susceptible—especially to more severe symptoms that last longer.

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Clostridium Perfringens & Food Temperatures

Now that we’ve defined Clostridium perfringens, let’s explore how food temperatures fit in.

How Food Temperatures Affect Clostridium Perfringens Growth

Improper or inadequate cooling, reheating, and cooking temperatures of meat foodstuffs contribute to almost all outbreaks of Clostridium perfringens outbreaks per the CDC. 

That’s because Clostridium perfringens grows between 54°F–140°F (12°C–60°C) when it’s being cooled or reheated. This kind of bacteria can grow rapidly within what’s referred to as the “danger zone” of 109°F–117°F (43°C–47°C).

Food Safety & Prevention Techniques 

Experts recommend and advise that you follow a few measures specifically related to food temperatures to prevent the growth of Clostridium perfringens.

A quick note: You can accomplish some of these techniques manually and others using tools and restaurant IoT technology. Consider these to be parts of your food temperature monitoring toolkit.

Food Temperature Monitoring Toolkit Essentials

Solutions may include:

Now, let’s move on to some of the prevention techniques you can use.

Prevention Tip #1: Thoroughly Cook Food to its Safe Minimum Internal Temperature

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, here are the safe minimum cooking temperatures for different kinds of food:

*Source: https://www.foodsafety.gov/food-safety-charts/safe-minimum-cooking-temperature

It’s important you especially cook gravies, meat, and poultry to a safe internal temperature since these kinds most commonly carry Clostridium perfringens.

When you thoroughly cook food to safe internal temperatures like those listed above, you kill the bacteria’s vegetative cells.  

How Temperature Monitoring Fits In

To ensure that restaurant and catering employees cook food to their proper safe internal temperatures, you need to monitor the temperature of the food. The best way to do so is to use a kitchen thermometer.

In fact, according to the USDA FSIS, this is the only reliable way to ensure the temperature of the food you’re cooking.  

Monitoring the temperatures of equipment like smokers, ovens, and other rugged use kitchen equipment using high temp sensor systems can help as well. That way, you’ll be alerted to potential malfunctions in equipment temperatures.

This can prove vital if your equipment temperatures do not go as high as they need to ensure safe internal temperatures.

Prevention Tip #2: Refrigerate Leftover Foods at 40°F or Colder Within 2 Hours of Preparation

As we previously mentioned, Clostridium perfringens outbreaks are often caused by inadequate cooling temperatures. As a result, experts recommend that you refrigerate leftover foods as soon as possible in a cooler or freezer that’s 40°F or colder.

You technically have two hours to do so, but it’s best to refrigerate as soon as you can to prevent the food from cooling to between the temperatures of 54°F–140°F—the temperature at which Clostridium perfringens grows.

You can put hot food in coolers and refrigerators, but if you have large amounts of food like soups, stews, roasts, etc., you should divide these into smaller quantities before you refrigerate them.

How Temperature Monitoring Fits In

There are three different ways to ensure this step is completed successfully:

1) Use manual hot & cold temperature charts, manual time and temperature prep logs and food thermometers to measure the exact food temperatures within two-hour increments.

Your staff will track the temperatures of the food throughout the day and be trained to monitor food temperatures within the ideal time frame.

2) Manually track the temperatures of your refrigeration and cooler units.

If the temperatures of your refrigerators or coolers rise above 40°F because of malfunctions or simple human error, food temperatures will most likely rise, too. That becomes a problem if it’s food that may contain Clostridium perfringens.

Manually tracking refrigeration and cooler units is one way to alleviate this problem, but it can be time-consuming, allow for human error, and prove hard to do during off-hours or when companies are short-staffed.

3) Remotely monitor and track the temperatures of your refrigeration and cooler units using cold temp sensor systems.

Cold temp sensor systems like Storm and Glacier from Hitachi solve many of the issues presented by manually logging and tracking equipment temperatures.

They give you the ability to track temperatures in real-time, record temperatures at pre-recorded times, receive alerts, and protect your assets 24/7/365.

That way, you’ll always know if your equipment temperatures rise unexpectedly and be able to catch a problem before it’s too late.

Prevention Tip #3: Reheat Leftovers to At Least 165°F

Whether you’re using a microwave, a countertop food warmer, or a thermalizer oven to reheat leftovers you need to reheat these foods to at least 165°F before you serve them.

If you don’t, the food temperature could very likely fall between 54°F–140°F and cause Clostridium perfringens spores to grow.

How Temperature Monitoring Fits In

To monitor the temperature of reheated leftovers, you can use the same temperature monitoring measures that we mentioned in #1: kitchen thermometers and high temp sensor systems.

Using kitchen thermometers to directly measure the temperature of the reheated food is the most accurate way to ensure it’s at least 165°F.

You can also use high temp sensor systems to measure certain kinds of heating equipment (often excluding microwaves) to ensure the warming and reheating temperatures reach what they need to prevent the growth of Clostridium perfringens spores.

Conclusion/TL;DR

To stop the growth of Clostridium perfringens in your food, you need to monitor the temperatures of the food itself and the equipment in which it’s cooked, stored, and reheated.

You can do so easily using solutions in your food temperature monitoring toolkit like:

Follow these three tips to prevent Clostridium perfringens foodborne outbreaks:

  • Prevention Tip #1: Thoroughly Cook Food to its Safe Minimum Internal Temperature.
  • Prevention Tip #2: Refrigerate Leftover Foods at 40°F or Colder Within 2 Hours of Preparation.
  • Prevention Tip #3: Reheat Leftovers to At Least 165°F.

Interested in learning more about how remote temperature monitoring systems like those from Hitachi can help you prevent foodborne illnesses caused by bacteria like Clostridium perfringens? Contact us today!