Pasta is a cheap, easy and delicious meal. Mac and cheese is a childhood staple, and there are few things more comforting than a plate of fettuccine alfredo and a glass of wine.
Spaghetti and meatballs is another perennial favorite, and plenty of students get by on cheap pasta like spaghetti and ramen noodles. But in 2008, it was spaghetti that was the culprit in one student’s death.
The Belgian student, whose name was AJ, made a fatal mistake that ended up claiming his life. College students are notorious for eating questionable foodstuffs, and AJ was no different.
Someone had made spaghetti with pasta sauce five days earlier, and had left a portion of it out on the counter (something many students are familiar with). Instead of tossing the days-old pasta and figuring out something else for dinner, he heated it up in the microwave and ate it.
From that point on, nothing was right. He suffered intense gastrointestinal distress and had to come back home. He thought he’d sleep it off, but after going to bed he never woke up.
The Journal of Clinical Microbiology published the study of poor AJ’s case in Dec. 2011.
“On 1 October 2008, a 20-year-old man became sick after eating a meal of leftovers of spaghetti with tomato sauce, which had been prepared 5 days before and left in the kitchen at room temperature,” the study reads.
“After school, he warmed the spaghetti in the microwave oven. Immediately after eating, he left home for his sports activities, but he returned 30 min later because of headache, abdominal pain, and nausea.”
“At his arrival, he vomited profusely for several hours and at midnight had two episodes of watery diarrhea. He did not receive any medication and drank only water.”
“After midnight, he fell asleep. The next morning at 11:00 AM, his parents were worried because he did not get up. When they went to his room, they found him dead.”
Tests confirmed that the doomed young man had ingested Bacillus cereus, a bacterium that causes food poisoning and can survive being heated up. But unfortunately, what AJ experienced was far more than the typical bout of vomiting and diarrhea.
The study suggested that the bacterium produced a toxin known as cereulide which is known to kill mitochondria, and that AJ’s system started to deteriorate because of. Large amounts of both B. cereus and cereulide were found in samples of his last meal.
Fortunately for most of us, this can be avoided by not eating five-day-old pasta that’s been left out at room temperature. The CDC recommends keeping your refrigerator below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and refrigerating leftovers as quickly as possible.
Washing hands, countertops, utensils, washcloths and other work surfaces is also crucial to prevent the growth and spread of microscopic nasties.
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