20-year-old student dies after reheating a old pasta dish

A young student died in his sleep after eating a poorly preserved pasta dish. A freak accident that serves as a reminder of the importance of food safety and hygiene rules.

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Avoiding food waste by consuming leftovers is fine... But provided you respect certain hygiene rules. This sad story of a 20-year-old student back in 2008has just resurfaced.

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A fatal spaghetti and tomato sauce dish

One evening in October, AJ returned home after a day of classes. Feeling hungry, he warmed up a pasta dish with tomato sauce in his microwave, which he had prepared a few days earlier. His hunger satiated, he went to the gym but returned home just thirty minutes later because he was suffering from headaches, abdominal pain and nausea.

The 20-year-old student then vomited for several hours and suffered from two episodes of liquid diarrhoea. Dr. Bernard, who looked into the student's story, believes that he drank stomach medicine, though the medical report states that he drank only water and ended up falling asleep at midnight.

The next morning, at 11 am, his parents started to get worried because they hadn't seen him wake up to go to class. On entering his room they discovered that their son was deceased. According to the autopsy, the time of death was at 4 o'clock in the morning, that is to say about 10 hours after his last meal... the bowl of pasta.

The bacillus cereus bacterium found guilty

Shocked by the sudden death of their child, the parents had to wait 5 days for an autopsy to be performed on AJ. According to the medical report published in the scientific journal of clinical microbiology USJournal, doctors detected the presence of bacillus cereus (B.cereus) in the young man’s body. A bacterium which is responsible for toxic infections characterised by the symptoms of diarrhoea and intoxication.

It is usually found in soil, water and plants, but some foods, especially those high in starch, can also be contaminated. The level of toxins released by the bacterium was so high in the student that it caused fatal liver failure. The remains of his last meal were then sent to the laboratory for analysis.

The results confirmed the spaghetti was contaminated by ‘a large number of B.Cereus.’ On the other hand, no trace of the bacteria was found in the tomato sauce.

Bad hygiene habits

But how could bacillus cereus develop in the student's pasta dish? According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food:

They can, in case of bad external conditions for them, be compacted into kinds of balls called spores. These spores are very resistant to heat (up to about 120 ° C). When cooling after cooking, these spores can germinate and produce toxins.
In the case of slow cooling or keeping it warm, re-cooking may be useless when trying to destroy the highly heat-resistant emetic toxin.

And that is most likely what happened in the case of the young student in Brussels. According to Dr. Bernard, the student had a habit of preparing dishes for the week starting on Sunday. It was not uncommon for him to forget to keep them in the refrigerator. He often left hermetically sealed bowls filled with food on the kitchen counter for several days. And the bowl in question would have just gone in and out of the fridge a few times before being heated in the microwave. The ideal conditions for bacteria to grow.

In the UK, there are about 5 cases per million inhabitants every year. Infections are generally benign, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. Dr Bernard believes that it was in fact an overdose of stomach medicine that caused the student to have a fatal reaction.

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