‘Fried rice syndrome’: Dietitians warn against eating food left out at room temperature

‘Fried rice syndrome’: Dietitians warn against eating food left out at room temperature

Food safety experts have been taking to TikTok to warn against fried rice syndrome and what causes it.

Fried rice syndrome is a type of food poisoning which occurs when certain dry foods, such as pasta and rice, contain a bacterium called Bacillus cereus that produces a toxin when heated and left out too long, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Concern over the food poisioning has grown recently after reports of 20 year old dying in 2008 from eating five-day-old pasta circulated on TikTok.

The concern over the possibility of food poisoning from leftovers has prompted dieticians and other food safety officials to explain what temperatures are and aren’t safe for leftovers. Kyndall Weir is a sports dietician who goes by the username @theathletedietitian on TikTok. In her video, she recalled one of her clients who was eating from the same pizza every week without storing it in the fridge.

She then explained why doing something like that can be dangerous by referring to the “temperature danger zone,” which is echoed in the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s food safety website.

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

People had so many questions that the TikToker began a food safety series on her page. One person asked, “Can I heat food up [and] put it directly back in the fridge hot? Bc I heard that’s bad but I do it secretly. BUT I will stop if I should.” Weir responded, “Technically you should let it cool before putting it back in the fridge.”

But Weir isn’t the only content creator speaking out about food safety and fried rice syndrome. Dr Shazma Mithani, who goes by the username @drshazmamithani, also posted about the same subject.

“Do not leave starchy food like rice, pasta, or potatoes out at room temperature,” she warned in the video. “There’s a very specific bacteria that thrives in this environment and produces a toxin that is heat stable, meaning that even when you reheat the food, it does not kill that toxin.”

She included more information in the caption, where she clarified that leaving out leftovers longer than they should is usually not a problem, but “starchy foods” can be more prone to the bacteria exposure than other foods.

According to the USDA, best practices for safely storing hot leftovers is to refrigerate leftovers within two hours of cooking the food or after it is removed from an appliance keeping it warm. After food is safely cooked, hot food must also be kept hot at 140F or warmer to prevent bacterial growth.

With cold food, it should be discarded after sitting at room temperature for over two hours, and one hour if it’s been sitting at a temperature above 90F.