More than 30 people were sickened by Clostridium perfringens after eating food at a parent/teacher conference event Feb. 16 at Haven Middle School in Evanston, Illinois.

The implicated food had been catered by Merle’s BBQ, an Evanston restaurant. Local health authorities say their investigation revealed unsafe food handling and temperature storage at both the restaurant and school.

According to a news release from the City of Evanston, positive laboratory tests from the food samples confirmed the bacteria came from the barbeque pulled chicken that was prepared and cooked at Merle’s BBQ Restaurant and delivered to Haven Middle School where it was then served “buffet style” between the hours of 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. No temperatures were taken at the time of delivery and the food was not kept heated or refrigerated during the time it was being served. 

Clostridium perfringens is a bacterium that is widely distributed in the environment. Most outbreaks are associated with undercooked meats prepared for large groups of people. Meat products such as stews, casseroles, and gravy are the most common sources of illness from Clostridium perfringens. Most outbreaks come from poorly controlled food temperature. If food is kept between 70 and 140 degrees F, it is likely to grow Clostridium perfringens bacteria.

People generally experience symptoms of Clostridium perfringens infection 6 to 24 hours after consuming the bacteria or toxins, which cause abdominal pain and stomach cramps, followed by diarrhea. Nausea is also a common symptom. Fever and vomiting are not normally symptoms of poisoning by Clostridium perfringens toxins.