How many times have you left the pizza on the counter overnight and then eaten a piece the next day? If you are a college student that is likely the way you survived your freshman year. Add some frozen 33 cent burritos, and 11 cent ramen and you have a complete guide on how to eat on a budget in college. If you want to get fancy, throw in some mac and cheese or some pasta and sauce.
What no one should do to survive is eat five-day-old food that was left out on the counter at room temperature. Sadly, in 2008, that is precisely what one Belgian student named AJ did when he heated a bowl of left-over spaghetti in the microwave and then ate it.
Within thirty minutes he was extremely ill, vomiting and passing watery diarrhea. He felt so sick that he made his way home and went to bed. When his parents checked on him the next morning, he was dead.
In 2011 the Journal of Clinical Microbiology published a case study of AJ’s death and underlying causes. The study concluded the spaghetti teamed with Bacillus cereus, a bacterium which causes food poisoning and survives the heat. Additionally, the bacterium produced a byproduct: a toxin named cereulide. Cereulide kills mitochondria – the stuff that aids in respiration and converts energy within our bodies. AJ’s system brimmed with this toxin and his system deteriorated because of the assault.
This sad case serves as a cautionary tale for us all. Do not eat food that’s left at room temperatures for extended amounts of time. Additionally, refrigerate food as quickly as possible at 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Wash your hands, wipe down counters, and keep utensils and dishes clean to prevent the growth and spread of microscopic organisms.