Can eating some leftover pasta can kill you? Apparently, the answer is ‘yes’. A 2008 death of a 20-year-old student has recently resurfaced on the internet. (1) This student died from one fateful bowl of pasta. The case may shock you and have you searching your memory for a time when you may have eaten pasta that was several days old.
What We Know
The tragic case of a student in Belgium identified as “A.J.” was first published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology. (2) The story was then featured on a doctor’s YouTube channel focusing on strange medical tales called Chubbyemu.  Once featured, the shocking story of the young man dying from a 5-day-old bowl of spaghetti with tomato sauce flooded the internet. The student stored his spaghetti at room temperature instead of in the refrigerator and microwaved it before eating.
After eating, he left home to attend his regular sports activities. However, just half an hour later he returned home complaining of a headache, nausea, and abdominal pain. Shortly after, he began vomiting profusely and was struck with diarrhea for hours on end. He drank water, didn’t eat anything, and didn’t take any medication before falling asleep at midnight. His parents were worried when the next morning he wasn’t up at 11 am. They were shocked to find him dead in his room when they went to check on him.
What Happened – The Fried Rice Syndrome
What happened to this young man is called ‘fried rice syndrome’. This is a generic term for food poisoning caused by a specific bacteria called Bacillus cereus. (4) This bacteria can cause severe reactions and as the case demonstrates, can even be lethal.
The problem developed due to the pasta being kept at room temperature. This is because Bacillus cereus can rapidly multiply at room temperature. While this is particularly found in rice as the colloquial name suggests, it can also happen in other foods such as pasta. When not refrigerated, pasta is also a perfect environment for bacteria to grow. In this case, five days out in the open at room temperature provided the ideal environment for Bacillus cereus to thrive.
Following food handling guidelines is crucial for food safety. Consuming food with bacteria overgrowth, especially this kind, is particularly dangerous and can make you really sick. While it may make you wince for the sake of your pocketbook, it’s better to throw out old pasta than risk a fatal illness.
What happened to A.J. is not a stand-alone case. Others have reported getting sick from several day old cooked pastas or pasta salad. (5) One family reported food poisoning after going on a picnic with a big serving of pasta salad. Another instance happened at a Chinese restaurant in Texas where a woman went into liver failure as a result of contaminated pasta. Thankfully, after several days in the intensive care unit, she survived.
How to Stay Safe
- When cooking, make sure to heat your food to the minimum safe internal temperature. 
- If you have leftovers or are cooking ahead of time, make sure to store food in the refrigerator in a sealed container.
- When it comes to pasta, rice, soups, and sauces, don’t wait too long to reheat leftovers, even if they have been refrigerated.
- If you don’t expect to eat your leftovers in the next day or two, put them in the freezer and reheat them when you are ready.
- If you are unsure about a food’s safety, instead of risking it, just toss it.
What do you think about this case? How do you store your food to stay safe from food poisoning? Share your thoughts with us. We would love to hear from you.