Officials pinpoint bacteria that killed Thanksgiving diners

The cause of the Antioch Thanksgiving dinner illness that sickened 25 people, three of whom died, has been determined to be a bacteria called Clostridium perfringens, according to Contra Costa County health officials.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the bacteria in stool samples taken from people sickened after eating at the holiday event, Contra Costa Health Services officials said today.

The free meal was prepared by volunteers from the Golden Hills Community Church and served to 835 people at Antioch’s American Legion hall on Thanksgiving Day.

All of the people who got sick reported having symptoms within 24 hours of eating the meal.

Dr. Louise McNitt, deputy health officer for Contra Costa Health Services, said in a statement:

“Clostridium perfringens is one of the most common food-borne illnesses in the U.S. 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.”

Health officials were not able to determine exactly which dishes from the meal sickened people, but found that most of the people who fell ill ate turkey and mashed potatoes at about the same time during dinner, health officials said.

Dr. Marilyn Underwood, the county’s environmental health director, said:

“Some dishes served at the event, including cooked turkey, were brought to the site after they were prepared in private homes.”

The event lacked the proper Health Services permits to serve food to the public and county staff are working with church leaders to “ensure they understand the permitting process,” Health Services spokeswoman Victoria Balladares said.

The three people who died were identified by the county coroner’s office as Christopher Cappetti, 43, Chooi Keng Cheah, 59, and Jane Evans, 69.

All had similar “intestinal abnormalities,” according to the coroner’s office.