Most people would never dream that a bowl of pasta could make them seriously sick — or even kill them.
Sadly, that was exactly what happened to a young student named A.J. back in 2008. After eating spaghetti that was five days old, A.J. developed severe food poisoning symptoms. He died less than two days later.
The pasta had been cooked five days before.
It then sat out at room temperature for two days before being put in the fridge for another three.
When AJ got out the leftovers, he assumed they would be safe to eat. He even microwaved them, which most people think is an adequate way to kill harmful food bacteria.
Soon, however, AJ started to feel seriously ill.
He was nauseated and his head and stomach hurt. Within a few hours, he began to vomit.
Assuming he had come down with food poisoning, AJ decided to take some medicine with a few glasses of water and then go take a nap. But the nap didn’t seem to help — in fact, he woke up feeling even sicker than before. He began to vomit and soon fell unconscious on the bathroom floor.
He was still there when his roommate found him and called an ambulance.
Unfortunately, even emergency services were not enough to save AJ. He passed away without recovering.
After his death, an autopsy showed that he had died from damage due to the toxin bacillus cereus. The toxin had spread through his body and damaged his liver. The medication he had taken to counteract his symptoms further hurt the organ.
It’s such an odd story, it was even presented in the US Journal of Clinical Microbiology.
But the truth is, it’s not unheard of for bacteria-laden food to make people seriously ill. More than 48 million people contract a foodborne illness every year in the United States.
“It is important to note that this is not a typical food poisoning case,” said Dr. Bernard, a doctor who analyzed the story on YouTube. “Many people eat pasta, or any other form of noodles, that are leftover for a day or two and they’re fine.”
Some of it’s from food that is poorly handled on the production line. But frequently, it’s because many people don’t know how to properly handle food in their own kitchen.
“…Be careful of food left out for more than a few hours,” said Bernard. “If the food smells funny, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.”
Bacillus cereus is an unusually quick-moving toxin that causes symptoms within minutes to hours.
Some types of this bacterium can cause vomiting in as little as 30 minutes. However, symptoms usually don’t last longer than about 24 hours.
Rarely do these symptoms cause death, but they can make people seriously sick. Most of the time, Bacillus cereus is ingested with improperly cooked or stored rice, pasta, or other foods.
There are many different kinds of foodborne illness. While most of them are not deadly, others require hospitalization. Food poisoning can be especially serious for young children, elderly people, or pregnant women.
Of the 48 million people who get sick from food annually, 128,000 land in the hospital and about 3,000 dies. This means that it’s extremely important to know how to properly store and prepare food to avoid illness.
So, what’s the best way to avoid foodborne illness?
It really comes down to what the CDC calls the Four Steps: clean, separate, cook, and chill.
Clean refers to making sure that all your kitchen surfaces and utensils are clean and sanitized. Illness-causing bacteria can survive on surfaces for a long time. Always rinse produce before cutting.
Separate means avoiding cross-contamination with food that carries bacteria, like raw meat, eggs, and seafood.
When cooking, make sure you heat foods to the proper temperature to kill bacteria. The best way to do this is to buy a food thermometer.
Lastly, refrigerate food within two hours and make sure your fridge temperature is less than 40 degrees.
These steps may not guarantee safety but they are the best way to avoid foodborne illness.
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