Contra Costa County Health Dept. Identifies Cause of Deadly Thanksgiving Meal

Labs confirmed the presence of Clostridium perfringens in the stool samples.

The Contra Costa County Health Department on Tuesday identified the cause of the deadly outbreak last month at a Thanksgiving church dinner, where three people died and 14 others got sickened.

A laboratory at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the presence of Clostridium perfringens in the stool samples taken by those who fell ill at the Nov. 24 holiday celebration, according to health spokeswoman Vicky Balladeres.

The Golden Hills Community Church in Brentwood had put on the annual event at the Antioch American Legion Hall.

Seattle-based food expert attorney William Marler first told NBC Bay Area that he suspected that the most likely culprit was this very same bacteria, which is often mistaken for the 24-hour flu. The majority of outbreaks are associated with undercooked meats, often cooked in large quantities and which sit out for long periods of time. It’s rarely fatal, but it can be.

“It’s not unusual for just a few people to get sick out of hundreds,” Marler said in an email to NBC Bay Area. “They may have been the only ones that ate the tainted portion or perhaps had underlying health issues that made them more vulnerable.”

Marler said it reminds him of a case in Iowa years ago where only a few people got sick and one died during a Thanksgiving dinner for the elderly.

Despite coming up with what made the holiday guests fall sick, and even die, Contra Costa County Health officials said they couldn't figure out exactly what dish made them ill.

"After extensive interviews, we found most of the ill people ate turkey and mashed potatoes and they all ate around the same time," Environmental Health Director Dr. Marilyn Underwood said in a statement. "Some dishes served at the event, including cooked turkey, were brought to the site after they were prepared in private homes."

She added that proper food handling is key to preventing foodborne illnesses and added "we’re saddened for the families that suffered losses this holiday season."

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