Less than an hour after a college student reheated a bowl of pasta and tomato sauce, he was violently ill. After he passed away in his sleep, doctors said he had made one fatal, yet common, mistake involving the leftover pasta.
A 20-year-old college student, only identified as AJ, became violently ill from something many college students do all the time — consuming leftovers. In AJ’s case, the dish that did him in was spaghetti, according to Inside Edition. Sadly, this isn’t some urban legend; it was featured in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, and it’s not the only story of its kind.
After reheating and consuming the spaghetti noodles and tomato sauce, the Belgium college student quickly became ill. About a half an hour after his meal, AJ developed a headache, abdominal pain, and nausea. That was soon followed by gas, diarrhea, and intense vomiting. Instead of seeking medical attention for the sudden illness, however, the young man went to bed, hoping to sleep off his symptoms, AOL reported. Sadly, AJ never woke up.
When he didn’t get up for class, his parents went to check on him. To their horror, he was gone, having suffered a tragic and untimely demise hours earlier, passing away at around 4 am — only about 10 hours after ingesting the meal that led to his demise. AJ’s autopsy revealed the preventable cause of his 2008 death, which has served as a warning to others for years to come.
AJ suffered liver necrosis and acute pancreatitis from Bacillus cereus, a well-known food-borne pathogen that produces toxins. Fecal swabs, taken postmortem, revealed the presence of B. cereus in his body. Samples of his leftover pasta were sent to the National Reference Laboratory for Food-borne Outbreaks (NRLFO) for analysis and quickly confirmed suspicions, also revealing a significant presence of B. cereus.
The bacteria is found in a variety of foods, especially starches like rice and pasta, and can multiply quickly at room temperature. AJ’s leftover pasta was originally made five days prior and wasn’t properly refrigerated — a mistake that cost him his life. The tragic case has since gone viral time and again over the years as it brings attention to this very real threat, often called “fried rice syndrome.”
Although many might dismiss it as a tall tale, doctors, including one with a popular YouTube channel, have issued a warning. Dr. Bernard, who identifies himself as a licensed medical provider based in the United States, used AJ’s story to draw attention to the deadly risks associated with B. cereus after the bacteria was increasingly reported as the cause of serious and potentially fatal non-gastrointestinal-tract infections, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
This is so much more than your usual, run of the mill bout of “food poisoning.” Although AJ’s case is rare, it also isn’t unheard of. In a similar case, five children became sick after eating pasta salad, which was prepared on a Friday and taken to a picnic on Saturday. The remainders were stored in the fridge until Monday evening when it was then served for supper to the children, NCBI reports.
Because the pasta salad had an unusual smell, three of the children ate only a small amount. Even so, all five became sick and were transferred to the hospital. The two who had consumed more of the tainted leftover pasta became much more severely ill. Both were intubated and mechanically ventilated. While four of the children gradually recovered, one of them passed away within 20 minutes of arriving at the hospital, just 13 hours after the meal.
The importance of practicing proper food storage techniques can’t be overstated. According to FoodSafety.gov, you should keep hot foods hot (over 140°F) and cold foods cold (40°F or under). In addition, food needs to be properly stored within two hours of preparation. Cooked food should be stored in a wide, shallow container and refrigerated as soon as possible. Fresh poultry, fish, and ground meats should be eaten or frozen within two days after cooking, and beef, veal, lamb or pork, within three to five days.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) also urges us to check the temperature of our refrigerators and freezers. Refrigerated food should be kept at 40F or below and frozen items at 0F or below. Remember, the end result of failing to follow simple food handling and storage precautions can be much worse than just an upset stomach. What you don’t know can hurt you, so make sure your loved ones are aware of the risks. No one wants to lose someone they love because leftovers weren’t properly refrigerated.