What is ‘fried rice syndrome’ and why is it causing panic online?


The term “fried rice syndrome” is spreading online after a TikTok video went viral for recounting the tragic 2008 death of a 20-year-old who passed away after consuming spoiled pasta. 

About the TikTok: In the TikTok uploaded on Sept. 11, user @jpall20 detailed the death of the man, noting that he left pasta sitting out on the counter at room temperature for about five days before he heated it up again and ate it. 

“Do not make your food, put it in a Tupperware and then leave it on your counter for a week,” the TikToker said. “Because you will literally pass away.”

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Fried rice syndrome: This food poisoning, known as "fried rice syndrome," is caused by the bacteria Bacillus cereus, which grows on foods like rice or pasta left at room temperature for too long. The bacteria produces toxins that can lead to symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping and sometimes result in severe illness and death in rare cases. 

The "danger zone”: The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Division warns that leaving cooked food unrefrigerated for just over two hours puts it in the "danger zone" for food poisoning. According to the CDC, one in six Americans get sick from foodborne illnesses annually. 

Practicing safety: To reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses, people are advised to properly store grains, rice and pasta in a cool, dry place and practice safe food handling after cooking. The two-hour/four-hour rule suggests that if food has been out of the fridge for up to two hours, it can be safely refrigerated. If it has been out longer, consume it immediately and discard any leftovers. But if it has been out for longer than four hours, the food starts to become a risk.

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