What a Food Safety Expert Says About Storing Leftovers After Teen's Food Poisoning-Amputation Case Goes Viral

"When in doubt, throw it out," says Peter Delucia, assistant commissioner of health in Westchester County, New York.

After the viral story of a college student whose legs and fingers were amputated from an infection caused by eating bad leftovers, experts are reminding the public about how to store food properly. 

The 19-year-old was visiting a friend at his dorm room in Boston when he went to the fridge and helped himself to leftover food from the night before. Within minutes, he became seriously ill. 

The case was first reported in the March 2021 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine and was also the subject of a recent YouTube video.

The student was rushed to the ER, where his kidneys shut down, and his heart and lungs failed. He was diagnosed with meningococcal septicemia, a deadly bacterial infection, and developed a deadly rash known as skin necrosis.

To save his life, most of his fingers and his legs below the knees had to be amputated.

“People don't realize, sometimes, how dangerous food can be,” says Peter Delucia, assistant commissioner of health in Westchester County, New York. He says leftover food should be refrigerated as soon as possible.

“Two hours is what we always talk about. The 2-hour rule — you don’t want to leave food out at room temperature for more than two hours, without either disposing of it, reheating it or putting it into the refrigerator,” Delucia said.

He also says that leftovers are safe in the fridge “usually two to four days” as a rule of thumb. When recooking leftovers, make sure they are heated to at least 165 degrees to kill any dangerous bacteria.  

“Use your senses, too. When you take that leftover out to eat it, if it’s something that you don’t have to reheat, smell it, look at it. If it smells a little funky, if it doesn’t look right — when in doubt, throw it out,” Delucia said.

As for what happened in Boston, doctors say it was made worse because the student wasn't fully vaccinated against meningitis as a child.

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