TikTok is once again causing intense discussions about food safety.
A 2008 story has resurfaced in recent weeks on the social media platform. It warns users of the dangers associated with reheated starches such as rice and pasta. On TikTok, it is called “fried rice syndrome.”
The story was originally published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology. It focused on the death of a student from Brussels who ate a plate of pre-prepared spaghetti that he had cooked on Sunday and then left out. Five days later, he reheated it and ate the meal.
You may be wondering how long food can be left outside and still be eaten. Is it safe to eat food that has been stored in the fridge? What exactly did the student eat?
Experts in food safety answered all these questions and more.
What is “fried rice syndrome”?
The food poisoning that caused the illness in the Brussels student was Bacillus cereus.
The microorganism is found in the environment as spores, but it doesn’t cause illness. Ellen Shumaker is a food safety specialist and the director of outreach at North Carolina State University’s Safe Plates Program.
This non-germinated organism can be found in soil, starchy foods (like pasta or rice), and even dirt. Shumaker says that it’s mostly associated with rice cooked, thus the name.
The expert explained that once cooked, the spores could germinate, become active, and begin creating toxins. Shumaker explained that people get sick by eating the poison.
Dr. Donald Schaffner is a Rutgers professor and specialist in food sciences. “The organism survives cooking and grows in food that is not refrigerated properly quickly. Once the organism reaches high concentrations (hundreds of millions of bacteria), it can cause illness by infection or the formation of heat-stable toxins. “When people ingest either the organism or toxin, they become sick.”
The spores generally germinate when the food sits in what Shumaker defines as “the temperature danger zone,” between data-vars-target-content-type=”url” data-vars-type=”web_external_link” data-vars-unit-name=”653bb64ce4b05def8bc76b20″ data-vars-unit-type=”buzz_body” href=”https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/how-temperatures-affect-food#:~:text=Bacteria%20grow%20most%20rapidly%20in,of%20refrigeration%20over%202%20hours. “>40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
She said that it was best to avoid bacteria growth by keeping food out of the temperature range above 4 hours.
The germination process can begin during the cooking phase, but it will continue at room temperature.
How much time can we keep starchy foods at room temperature?
The food will germinate spores once it is cooked unless you immediately place the dish in the refrigerator, which will stop the growth of active bacteria.
Schaffer stated that “the general recommendation of common sense is to not leave cooked food at room temperature longer than two hours.” If cooked food is promptly refrigerated, it means the organism won’t multiply to dangerous levels.Bacillus cereus bacteria spores, which germinate when cooked and are left at room temperature, can cause illness in starchy foods like rice.
Many comments on TikTok are based on the assumption that cooling down still-warm food may have a negative impact. It turns out that this is not the case.
Shumaker explained, “because toxins form in the danger zone of temperature, it is important to cool food quickly.”
Shumaker says that although hot food can be placed directly in the fridge, it depends on how much you are storing. The larger the pot is, the longer the food will take to cool in the center.
She advised: “It’s best to divide hot food into smaller portions and place them in shallow containers so that they can cool down more quickly.” Also, ensure that the temperature of your fridge is lower than 41 degrees.
What symptoms are associated with this particular food poisoning?
In general, the symptoms of “fried rice syndrome,” also known as food poisoning, are very similar (vomiting and diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramps).
Shumaker explained that, unlike other bacteria, which can cause poisoning almost immediately after consumption, Bacillus cereus can lead to reactions between 30 minutes and 5 hours after ingestion.
She revealed that diarrhea could begin 8 to 16 hours after consuming contaminated food.
Experts say that staying hydrated is the best way to combat the syndrome and stay healthy.