Common Bacteria Caused Antioch Thanksgiving Dinner Deaths

ANTIOCH (CBS SF) — A common food-borne bacteria was responsible for three deaths and the illnesses suffered by 22 others following a Thanksgiving meal sponsored by a community church at Antioch’s American Legion auditorium, health officials announced Tuesday.

Contra Costa County health officials said a laboratory at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention confirmed the presence of the bacteria — Clostridium perfringens — in stool samples taken from people sickened by food.

“Clostridium perfringens is one of the most common foodborne illnesses in the U.S.,” said Dr. Louise McNitt, deputy health officer for Contra Costa Health Services in a news release. “It can be found in the human intestine without hurting us, but eating food containing large amounts of this bacteria can cause illness and in some cases death.”

All 25 people fell ill within 24 hours of consuming food at the event.

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Dr. Marilyn Underwood said while the bacteria was identified, it was not determined which dish contained it.

“Our investigation was not able to determine exactly what people ate that made them sick,” she said. “But after extensive interviews we found most of the ill people ate turkey and mashed potatoes and they all ate around the same time. Some dishes served at the event, including cooked turkey, were brought to the site after they were prepared in private homes.”

Underwood said proper food handling was essential to prevent foodborne illness, including cooking foods to proper temperatures, cooling and storing them appropriately if they’re not going to be eaten right away, separating raw meats from foods that won’t be cooked, storing food properly and washing hands and cooking surfaces often.

“We’re saddened for the families that suffered losses this holiday season,” she said. “We encourage anyone planning charity events where food will be served to the public to contact us to understand the permitting process and to learn about food safety.”

The coroner’s office identified the victims as 43-year old Christopher Cappetti, 59-year-old Chooi Keng Cheah and 69-year-old Jane Evans. All three were residents at assisted living facilities in Antioch who were served food at the Thanksgiving Day event.

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