'Fried rice syndrome': a common cause of food poisoning
An illness called "fried rice syndrome" has caused some panic online after a 2008 case resurfaced. Find out what's behind this food poisoning and how to avoid it here.
According to microbiologists, "fried rice syndrome" refers to food poisoning caused by a bacteria called Bacillus cereus (B. cereus), which becomes a risk when cooked food is left at room temperature for too long.
This bacteria is quite common and is found throughout the environment, but it only starts to cause problems if it gets into certain foods that are cooked and not stored correctly.
Certain bacteria can produce toxins and the longer foods that should be refrigerated are stored at room temperature, the more likely these toxins are to develop.
Baccilus cereus and its problems
B. cereus has a trick up its sleeve that other bacteria don't: it produces a type of cell called a spore, which is very resistant to heating.
While heating leftovers to a high temperature can kill other types of bacteria, it may not have the same effect if the food is contaminated with B. cereus.
These spores are almost always dormant, and in order for them to grow and become active, they need to be given the right temperature and conditions.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of B. cereus infection include diarrhea and vomiting, which tend to disappear within a few days, but vulnerable people, such as children or people with underlying illnesses, may be more likely to need medical care.
These symptoms are similar to those of gastrointestinal diseases and therefore can lead to some carelessness leading people to not seek medical assistance, which is why the scientific community does not have concrete figures on the frequency of occurrence of B. cereus.
In addition to B. cereus, other microorganisms such as E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter can cause gastritis.
The most correct way to store your food for the next day
According to an article by Enzo Palombo in The Conversation, to better prevent these bacteria, we must minimise the time that food spends in the danger zone, which encourages the development of toxins.
This danger zone is between the maximum temperature above your refrigerator temperature and below 60°C, which is the temperature at which you should reheat your food.
After cooking a meal, if you are saving some of it to eat in the following days, refrigerate it immediately. There is no need to wait for the food to cool down.
When you put something in the fridge, it takes some time for the cold to penetrate the food mass. You can follow the two-hour/four-hour rule: this way, if something has been out of the fridge for up to two hours, it's safe to put it back in the fridge.
If it has been out of the fridge for longer, consume it then and throw away the remains, but if it has been out of the fridge for more than four hours, it starts to be a risk.