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Yes, You Can Get Food Poisoning from Leftover Pasta — Here’s How to Avoid It


When we get food poisoning, we usually think back to any meat, dairy, or produce we’ve eaten recently as we believe that’s the culprit for our discomfort. Strains of E. coli are more commonly found in those products, but that’s not the only bacteria that can cause this type of pain. It turns out that even cooked pasta can make our stomachs turn — and not because of the sauce or toppings you put on it, but the pasta itself. 

Another nasty bacterium known as Bacillus cereus (abbreviated B. cereus) can make itself cozy in food like pasta, rice, spices, and dried food. The problem occurs when the food is consumed four or five days after it was initially prepared. It’s rare that it causes more than a mild case of food poisoning, but the spread of toxins secreted by the bacteria can lead to serious and life-threatening issues like liver failure. 

In one case reported by the Journal of Clinical Microbiology in 2011, a family had whipped up some pasta salad on a Friday to enjoy on a picnic the next day. Leftovers were then stowed away in the fridge until Monday evening when the family’s children had it with their dinner. Later that same night, all of the kids fell ill and were taken to the hospital with severe food poisoning. In another case from 2011, a 20-year-old Belgian student prepared a week’s worth pasta with tomato sauce. On the fifth day, he left the pasta sitting out in the kitchen before eating it and also experienced severe food poisoning that, sadly, ended in his death. 

As terrifying as these cases sound, it’s important to again remember that they are rare and that each one involved the pasta dishes being left out for unknown periods of time before being consumed days later. On top of making sure you always store your food properly, it’s a good idea to not continue eating it after four or five days have passed. In most cases, food poisoning from B. cereus gets better on its own without treatment, but it’s best to avoid the problem entirely. And remember: If you ever feel any sort of extreme reaction to food you’ve eaten, you should seek help from a doctor or medical professional immediately.

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