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What is ‘Fried Rice Syndrome’ on TikTok and where does it come from?

Dietitians and former chefs are currently posting videos warning TikTokers about “fried rice syndrome” in the aftermath of a 20-year-old dying after eating food that he had left out.

The 20-year-old at the center of the story passed away in 2008 in Belgium. Although it’s been nearly 15 years since the incident occurred, recent social media posts have brought it back into the internet’s consciousness.

According to the case report — which the Journal of Clinical Microbiology published — the man ate leftover spaghetti from five days earlier that he had left out at room temperature the entire time. He warmed up the food in the microwave to eat it but passed away overnight after experiencing headaches, nausea and abdominal pain.

Bacillus cereus is the “toxin-producing” bacteria that caused the 20-year-old man’s food poisoning, which many refer to as “fried rice syndrome” because people often leave rice out to cool for hours after cooking, which can lead to sickness.

“Leftover fried rice is a primary culprit,” Philip Tierno, a microbiologist and clinical professor at New York University Langone Health, told Live Science. “After the rice is cooked, it is often left at room temperature for more than two hours to cool before frying it with other ingredients. Cooling the rice ensures that the finished fried rice won’t get clumpy or become soggy. But reheating it doesn’t get rid of the toxins the bacteria have already produced.”

As the story has resurfaced, experts on social media are taking this time to explain why “fried rice syndrome” is so dangerous.

Kyndall Weir (@theathletedietitian), a registered dietitian, explained why “fried rice syndrome” occurs — explaining the temperature danger zone.

“If something is supposed to be refrigerated and it reaches above 40 degrees, bacteria can start to grow,” she said. “On the other hand, something that is supposed to be hot — like that rice that was cooked — cools down below 140 degrees Fahrenheit, that is also in the temperature danger zone.”

Many of Weir’s viewers said that they stayed on the cautious side when it came to leftovers, but some also admitted to taking risks.

“I refrigerate every thing, even stuff that’s probably not needed to be refrigerated but I’m so scared of food contamination,” replied @dracomeowlfoy28.

“Literally watching this video as I heat up my leftover pizza that I left out last night,” commented @papikiloxo.

Jonathan Kung (@jonkung), a former professional chef, also weighed in on what measures people should take to keep their food safe and healthy. The main rule Kung told his viewers about was what he called the “40-140-4 rule.”

“It means that if you let your food sit for four hours between the temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, you need to throw it out. That’s what restaurants are told to do,” he said.

Kung also noted that breaking this rule doesn’t mean you will instantly get sick or die, but it puts you at a higher risk.

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