Food Poisioning Goes Viral

I’ve often wondered what makes a YouTube or a post on Facebook go viral. Knowing my interest in food safety, a friend recently shared a Fox News story that I’m sure helped make this story on a food poisoning death go viral https://www.foxnews.com/health/student-died-after-eating-leftover-pasta-in-rare-food-poisoning-case The story became popular was picked up by several other social media outlets. This video now has over 4 million views.

In case you haven’t seen it, the original video was by a YouTuber named Chubbyemu. The recreated story was about a student who died of a foodborne illness. The video is about 14 minutes long and I found it difficult to watch as its original purpose is to train emergency room physicians about possible food borne illnesses. If you read the original account of the illness and death you see that Chubbyemu took some liberties and sensationalism with this dramatic educational piece.

The real story happened back in 2008 and Belgium health specialists wrote about it in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology in 2011. Their report shares that a 20 year-old man died after eating five-day old pasta that had been left at room temperature. He suffered headache, abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhea and died about ten hours after eating. The body was autopsied and the leftover spaghetti also studied. The investigators indicated that Bacillus cereus (B. cereus) was the mostly likely cause of death.

B. cereus is a bacteria that produces food borne Illness caused by toxins. It is frequently found in cooked pasta and cooked rice, but also can be found in sauces, soups and leftovers that have sat out too long at room temperature. The young man in our story heated the pasta in the microwave, and perhaps he felt that was a way to prevent a food borne illness. What many people don’t know is that after these toxins have been produced they cannot be destroyed by heating. The key way to prevent the development of B. cereus is taking care with these foods after cooking especially during cooling, storage and reheating. These foods should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours and according to the USDA cooked pasta leftovers eaten within three to five days.

If anything good has happened out of this young man’s death and the viral story 11 years later—perhaps more people have become aware of this food borne illness and the importance refrigerating foods as soon as possible and then not keeping the leftovers in the refrigerator too long.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

J Clin Microbiol. “Sudden Death of a Young Adult Associated with Bacillus cereus Food Poisioning.” 2011 Dec; 49(12): 4379–4381. doi: 10.1128/JCM.05129-1122012017

Food Safety Talk Podcast #174 No Borscht Collusion (location on podcast 54:10) http://foodsafetytalk.com/food-safety-talk/2019/1/30/food-safety-talk-174-no-borscht-collusion?

USDA FoodKeeper https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/foodkeeperapp/index.html

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updated on 08-23-2019