If you take anything away from this story, let it be this; never, ever, EVER leave rice or pasta dishes (or really, any food at all) unrefrigerated. Did you know that you can actually, figuratively, and quite literally freaking die from eating it the next day?
We didn’t either.
According to a published Case Challenge in the New England Journal of Medicine, a 19-year-old college student in Massachusetts narrowly escaped death after eating contaminated rice.
He suffered multiple organ failure, shock, and a purple rash within hours of consuming the food. Case Challenge is a fascinating section of NEJM where doctors present challenging medical cases then ask other doctors to try and identify what is happening.
These cases are often very reminiscent of the syndicated TV show series House.
They even include polls and comments sections where readers can see doctors chatting about truly mind-boggling diseases.
The college student eating leftover takeout definitely qualifies as a perplexing case at first glance.
The young man had eaten rice, chicken, and lo mein leftovers that were improperly stored overnight.
After the student ate the leftovers, he almost immediately felt sick.
The case study says that he experienced abdominal pain and broke out in a gnarly rash (you can see it here, but trigger warning for sensitive viewers!)
He was admitted to the hospital for “shock, multiple organ failure, and rash,” but things quickly got worse. Soon, his breathing became abnormal, high blood pressure spiked, and he began vomiting.
Doctors diagnosed him with meningococcal purpura fulminan disease.
What is meningococcal purpura fulminan disease? According to the National Organization for Rare Diseases,
“meningococcemia is a rare infectious disease characterized by upper respiratory tract infection, fever, skin rash and lesions, eye and ear problems, and possibly a sudden state of extreme physical depression (shock) which may be life-threatening without appropriate medical care.”
The 19-year-old’s condition was diagnosed as meningococcemia, which caused the cascading symptoms from a stiff neck to abdomen pain and other issues.
Rice and pasta contain a bacterium called Bacillus cereus that becomes poisonous after it gets heated and then left out for long periods, which is what happened in this case.
The purpura fulminan caused skin necrosis, which sadly led to this young man having all his fingers and legs amputated.
As it turns out, the young man’s roommate also ate the contaminated rice meal, but he suffered some vomiting and not much more.
It turns out that the roommate had the meningococcal vaccine, which is commonly given to preteens and teens.
The young man who ended up in the hospital reportedly told his doctors that he had had the first shot but not the second, which may account for why the roommate didn’t suffer as badly.
To avoid getting sick (even though cases like this are extremely rare), you can follow some basic common sense guidelines.
Since rice and pasta contain Bacillus cereus that can become toxic after being heated up and then remaining at room temperature for long periods of time, we can probably guess that leaving food with rice or pasta out can make you sick.
But that can include any take-out from restaurants that make huge batches of food but don’t keep them at proper temperatures.
Here are a few tips to keep you are your family safe:
- Get the meningococcal vaccine.
- Properly cook rice and pasta, and don’t let it set out at room temperature for longer than an hour or so.
- Quickly cool and store rice and pasta by placing them in shallow containers in the fridge; this will prevent bacteria from breeding in the warm center spots while the rest is cooling.
- Do not eat rice and pasta leftovers cold; heat them back up to appropriate temperatures to kill any bacteria that might have had time to multiply.
- Always wash your hands and use clean cookware and utensils to prepare foods.
Stay safe out there, friends. Don’t let any leftovers catch you off guard!