It’s hard to imagine someone dying of food poisoning in 2019, but it happens more than you think – and a bacteria called Bacillus cereus is often the culprit.
The 20-year-old Belgian student likely wasn’t aware of Bacillus cereus, or that it could be lurking in the dish of 5-day-old pasta he ate after leaving it out at room temperature for some time beforehand. If he had been, perhaps he would have taken his symptoms – intense abdominal pain, nausea, headache, diarrhea, and vomiting – more seriously.
The boy, unnamed in reports, often prepared a week’s worth of meals (usually pasta) ahead of time and then heated them up during the week. This time, the 5-day-old spaghetti dinner killed him.
Reports say that he figured a new tomato sauce was to blame for the odd taste, then, when his pains began, returned home to sleep off the sudden illness instead of going to a doctor. Which, in all honesty, is something we’ve all done – a totally sobering thought.
His parents got worried the next day, and they found him dead around 11am. The autopsy revealed that he died around 4am, 10 hours after eating the spaghetti, and his stomach contents and fecal matter confirmed the presence of Bacillus cereus in his system.
The bacteria is responsible for the food borne illness known as “fried rice syndrome” because it commonly occurs after one eats a rice dish left sitting at room temperature for several hours. Left untreated, the illness can lead to liver and kidney failure and, soon after, death.
In 2003 there was a case of Bacillus cereus poisoning after a family of 7 ate some 8-day-old pasta salad at a picnic and fell ill. Everyone needed medical intervention, but even with the treatment, the youngest, a 7-year-old girl, died from liver failure.
Food handling and making good decisions with leftovers isn’t something that should be taken lightly or addressed flippantly. No matter how many tools doctors have at their disposal, there remain certain bugs – with more emerging every day – resistant to treatment.
Best to take measures beforehand and avoid the whole mess. And if you’ve ever had food poisoning, you know how literally true that statement can be.