A story about a 20-year-old who died in 2008 after eating reheated spaghetti has resurfaced on TikTok, causing concern about “fried rice syndrome.” In a viral video, Dr. Joe Whittington, an emergency care doctor with 1.7 million followers, warns that leaving rice at room temperature for two hours can be deadly. He explains that this type of food poisoning, which also affects pasta, is caused by an overgrowth of Bacillus cereus, a bacteria that can survive the boiling process. The bacteria multiply at room temperature and produce toxins that cause vomiting and diarrhea. Therefore, leaving rice out for too long can be problematic.
The case of the unidentified 20-year-old from Belgium, who died after eating reheated spaghetti left out in his kitchen for five days, was detailed by doctors in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology. They concluded that B cereus was likely to blame. While death from this bacteria is rare, it can cause gastrointestinal illness if food isn’t stored properly. Professor Enzo Palombo, a microbiologist at Swinburne University of Technology, explains in The Conversation that pasta, rice, cooked meat, and vegetables can all be affected by the bacteria.
To serve rice safely, it is important to follow certain guidelines. Reheating rice can cause food poisoning, particularly if it hasn’t been stored properly before reheating. This can lead to “fried rice syndrome,” a type of food poisoning caused by the growth of Bacillus cereus. To avoid this risk, rice should be served as soon as it’s cooked. If that’s not possible, it should be cooled quickly, ideally within one hour, and then stored in the fridge for no more than one day until reheating. When reheating rice, it should be steaming hot all the way through, and it should not be reheated more than once.
B cereus is problematic because it produces spores that are resistant to heating. While heating leftovers to a high temperature may kill other bacteria, it may not have the same effect on B cereus if the food is contaminated. Symptoms of B cereus poisoning can appear as quickly as 30 minutes after eating and usually last about 24 hours. Professor Palombo advises minimizing the time food stays in the “danger zone” where toxins can grow, which is any temperature above the fridge temperature and below 60C, the recommended temperature for reheating food. To avoid this, he suggests putting food straight in the fridge instead of waiting for it to cool. He also recommends following the two-hour/four-hour rule: if food has been out of the fridge for up to two hours, it’s safe to put back, but if it’s been out for longer, it should be consumed immediately and any leftovers should be thrown away. After four hours, the risk of contamination increases.
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