What is fried rice syndrome and why its delicious name carries a potentially fatal danger


What is fried rice syndrome? Recently, this type of food poisoning with an ironically delicious name has gained attention after a death that occurred 15 years ago For this reason it resurfaced on social networks.

The disease began to attract attention on TikTok after user @jpall20 published a video, now viral, highlighting the story of a young man who died after eating leftover, unrefrigerated, five-day-old pasta.

“To all the apprentices and cooks out there, don’t make your food and then put it in a container and leave it in your kitchen for a week,” the user warned.

A syndrome that can be fatal

The death was originally reported in 2011 as part of a report on the case, in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology. In the paper, researchers describe a 20-year-old Belgian student who died suddenly in 2008 after eating leftover pasta with tomato sauce that he had cooked five days earlier and then left on the kitchen counter at room temperature instead of storing it. in the refridgerator.

Shortly after reheating and eating the dish, the young man began to have severe vomiting and symptoms of a gastrointestinal illness. The next morning, having no previous health problems and being considered healthy, he was found dead. The autopsy revealed that he suffered from acute liver failure, while tests revealed the presence of large amounts of a bacteria called Bacillus cereus in the food.

Although the exact cause of death could not be determined because the autopsy was delayed, tests pointed to Bacillus cereus as the most likely cause, the report’s authors wrote.

Eating pasta that has been sitting in the kitchen for five days may seem unappetizing to most people, but Bacillus cereus infections — also known as “fried rice syndrome” — are not uncommon.

An infection with this bacteria can also develop after eating foods that have been at room temperature. for much shorter periods of timeeven just a few hours.

Why is it called fried rice syndrome?

Fried rice syndrome refers to food poisoning caused by Bacillus cereus, a type of bacteria that forms spores that release harmful toxins, explains Dr. Robert Gravani, professor emeritus of food sciences at Cornell University.

People become infected when they eat food contaminated with the bacteria, which causes diarrhea and vomiting. In severe cases, an intestinal infection with B. cereus can cause acute liver failure and death.

“We have known him for a long time. This organism is very common in the environment and is found naturally in soil, vegetation and in a series of food products of plant and animal origin,” says Gravani.

Intestinal infections due to this bacteria are common in many countries and are usually mild, says Gravani. About 63,400 Bacillus cereus outbreaks occur in the United States each year, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Illness typically occurs when contaminated food is improperly cooled and left at room temperature for long periods of time, allowing bacteria and their spores to multiply to dangerous levels, Gravani explains.

B. cereus spores are heat resistant and can survive in foods cooked at temperatures that kill many other bacteria. This can happen in a few hours, so experts recommend refrigerating the food within two hours of cooking.

Foods that cause fried rice syndrome are already contaminated with B. cereus before they are cooked and left out. Initial B. cereus contamination usually comes from the environment or from cross-contamination during harvesting, handling, or cooking.

Bacillus cereus thrives in pre-cooked, starchy foods such as rice and pasta, while its optimal growth occurs between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit (the range known as the “danger zone”).

The name “fried rice syndrome” comes from the first documented cases involving cooked white rice that was not refrigerated and then used to make fried rice dishes in restaurants, expert Dr. Cynthia Sears tells .com. in foodborne infections and professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University.

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“Basically, the rice is cooked and then held at an inappropriate temperature, hot enough for “The spores can germinate and produce what is called a thermostable toxin.”Sears says.

Reheating food does not kill or deactivate toxins or spores that can make you sick, experts emphasize.

The name “fried rice syndrome” is a bit of a misnomer, Gravani clarifies. Although the bacteria is commonly associated with rice and pasta, It can also contaminate vegetables, meat and dairy products.

Rarely, Bacillus cereus can cause non-intestinal infections that affect other parts of the body, such as the eyes and wounds, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Symptoms of the syndrome

B. cereus causes two forms of gastrointestinal disease, says Gravani, a vomiting syndrome and a diarrheal syndrome, which is the most common. They have different symptoms and incubation periods, and each type is associated with different foods.

Vomiting (emetic) syndrome

Fried rice syndrome is the vomiting type, explains Gravani. “It occurs when an organism grows in food and produces the toxin, which the person consumes and becomes sick.”

According to the Cleveland Clinic, it is most commonly associated with rice, but also with pasta, potatoes, pastries, sushi, and cheese.

The incubation time is very short, so symptoms usually begin between one and six hours after eating the contaminated food, adds Gravani. These include:

· Nausea

· Vomiting

· Abdominal pain

“There may be some diarrhea, but vomiting is usually predominant,” Sears says.

Diarrheal syndrome (enterotoxin)

Diarrheal syndrome occurs when a person eats food contaminated only with the bacteria or its spores, which germinate in the stomach and toxins are released in the intestinessays Sears.

Foods associated with the diarrheal type of Bacillus cereus infection include meat, vegetables, soups, stews, and sauces, explains Gravani.

The incubation period is longer, so experts point out that symptoms usually take between six and fifteen hours to appear. Among them are

· Watery diarrhea

· Abdominal cramps

How to treat the syndrome?

Although fried rice syndrome is unpleasant, most of the time it goes away on its own without the need for specific medication.

“In normal healthy people it usually resolves on its own in about 24 hours,” says Gravani. Treatment consists of care, including plenty of rest and fluids. In severe cases of vomiting or diarrhea, the person may need intravenous fluids to maintain hydration.

However, people with health problems are more likely to develop serious illnesses and consequences from a B. cereus infection, Gravani notes.

In the case of the healthy 20-year-old in the case that went viral, Gravani speculates that the five-day period allowed the bacteria to grow. until reaching extremely high numbers and producing deadly levels of toxins in the pasta.

Most people probably won’t eat leftovers that have been sitting at room temperature for five days, but bacillus cereus is still a common cause of food poisoning.

How to prevent it?

You can reduce the risk of becoming infected with bacillus cereus by cooking, cooling, and storing foods properly. Experts recommend taking the following measures, which will also help prevent illness from other foodborne pathogens:

· Cook all foods well until they reach an adequate internal temperature.

· Eat cooked foods as soon as possible.

· Keep foods warm at 135 degrees Fahrenheit or higher until ready to serve.

· Refrigerate all cooked or perishable foods within two hours and make sure the refrigerator is at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.

· If the room temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, leftovers should be refrigerated after one hour.

· Divide leftovers into small containers so they cool faster.

· Reheat leftovers until they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit before eating.

· Do not eat leftovers that have been in the refrigerator for more than four days.

· If in doubt about said food, it is better to discard it.