FACTS: Although there are many causes of food poisoning (including numerous viruses and bacteria, not to mention toxins and pesticides), Bacillus cereus is one of the common ingredients found in spoiled food – and the indigestion caused by its ingestion can certainly be serious!
There are two primary types of B. cereus-related illness, categorized according to whether the poisoned food ultimately goes out up or down. While the diarrheal form can be induced by the presence of B. cereus in any number of infected food (including milk, meats, vegetables, and fish), the emetic (vomiting) variety is most typically the result of eating contaminated rice (or other starchy products), such as are often served in Chinese, Mexican, and other fast food restaurants.
The problem is that B. cereus spores are often present in uncooked rice. But because the spores are heat-resistant, they are not always killed when the rice is cooked, particularly if it is steamed or cooked too quickly. Then, if the rice is kept warm, or allowed to cool to room temperature slowly before refrigeration – as is often the case with foods made for take-out or delivery – B. cereus can rapidly multiply until it is present in disease-inducing concentrations.
The lesson: when it comes to rice and other starchy foods, it’s important to cook them thoroughly, eat them while they’re fresh, and refrigerate leftovers immediately. If you don’t, your fortune could turn seriously bad in a hurry.