20-Year-Old Dies Of 'Fried Rice Syndrome' After Eating Leftover Pasta
By Dave Basner
September 8, 2023
Anyone who has eaten leftovers knows that sometimes they taste even better than the original meal they came from. In addition, leftovers are an easy meal to make - you can just heat them up and eat them. However, it turns out that leftovers can also be very dangerous, and even deadly. Sadly, that was the case for a 20-year-old student, who passed away after eating five-day-old pasta.
It's a case that was written about in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology a few years back, but has resurfaced due to some YouTube videos and Reddit posts. According to case reports, the student would make his meals for the week on Sunday so he wouldn't have to deal with it on the weekdays. One Sunday, he cooked up some spaghetti and put it in Tupperware containers so that days later, he could just add some sauce to it and reheat it.
After five days of the pasta sitting out on the counter at room temperature, he heated some up and ate it. He noted an odd taste to the food but figured it was just due to the new tomato sauce he was using. He went out to play some sports but after 30 minutes, he had to come home due to nausea, abdominal pain and a headache. Diarrhea and vomiting followed so he drank water and tried to sleep it off. The next day, after he didn't get out of bed for his classes, his parents checked on him and unfortunately, he had died.
Investigators who examined his body determined that he passed away at 4 a.m., ten hours after eating the spaghetti. His autopsy showed his liver had shut down and his death was caused by liver necrosis. Samples of the pasta and tomato sauce he ate were sent to the National Reference Laboratory for Food-borne Outbreaks, where they discovered significant amounts of a bacteria called Bacillus cereus. In most cases, the bacteria just causes diarrhea and vomiting, but there are extreme cases where it affects the liver and leads to the organ's failure.
The bacteria is best known for causing a type of food poisoning called "Fried Rice Syndrome," since rice is sometimes cooked and left to cool at room temperature for a few hours. During that time, the bacteria can contaminate it and grow. B. cereus is especially dangerous because it produces a toxin in rice and other starchy foods that is heat resistant and may not die when the food it infects is cooked.
B. cereus is scarily common too. Previously, an entire family got sick from it after eating eight-day-old pasta salad at a picnic. To prevent the bacteria from making you ill, just be sure any starchy food you consume hasn't been kept at room temperature for an extended period of time. When in doubt, you can try to cook it at a high temperature and attempt to kill off any bacteria, but your best bet is to just not eat it.