Food safety experts are taking to TikTok to warn viewers about leaving their food out on the counter, saying that it could lead to illness.
Sports dietitian Kyndall Weir (@theathletedietitian) went viral this week with a video about the temperature “danger zone” for food. The video has 1.7 million views and over 114,000 likes.
@theathletedietitian #stitch with @Jpall20 #greenscreen why food safety is so important!!! Im immediately turning this into a series #athletenutrition ♬ Spooky, quiet, scary atmosphere piano songs – Skittlegirl Sound
Weir stitched a video by @jpall20, in which the creator discussed a 2022 iHeartRadio article headlined, “20-Year-Old Dies Of ‘Fried Rice Syndrome’ After Eating 5-Day-Old Pasta.“
In her own video, Weir recounted the story of an athlete who told her they ate from the same pizza all weekend during a tournament. The dietitian asked the athlete if he had stored it in a mini fridge, but no.
“He just left it out and was eating it all weekend long,” she said.
Weir went on to explain 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 at below 140 degrees Fahrenheit. That is also in the temperature danger zone.”
The resulting bacteria growth in those scenarios can make a person ill, Weir said.
The video kicked off a new series of videos from Weir concerning food safety for first-timers.
A viewer asked Weir, “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.”
“Also people think reheating will kill the bacteria but sometimes it’s the toxins that make you sick,” a second viewer said. Weir replied, “Yup! There are many different types of growths / spores that can cause food borne illness.”
“I was the risk manager and house manager for my sorority and I had to explain to a 20 year old that she couldn’t store crab rangoons on the shelf,” one commenter shared.
“It’s honestly a miracle i’m still alive at this point,” a further wrote.
Another TikTok creator, Dr. Shazma Mithani (@drshazmamithani), recently posted a video on the same subject, and it’s racked up 2.3 million views and 183,800 likes.
@drshazmamithani Share this to keep your friends and family safe! We are all guilty of letting food sit out for longer than we would like to. Often, it’s not a big deal, but for starchy foods like rice, it’s the perfect breeding ground for a bacteria called Bacillus cereus. This bacteria produces a heat stable toxin that survives even when the rice is reheated. It’s can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. Please share this and follow for more tips and tricks to keep you and your entire family healthy and out of the ER. . . . . . #foodsafety #food #rice #pasta #potatoes #toxin #bacteria #foodpoisoning #vomiting #diarrhea #er ♬ original sound – Dr. Shazma Mithani, MD, FRCPC
“Do not leave starchy food like rice, pasta, or potatoes out at room temperature,” she warns 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.”
Mithani, an emergency medical doctor, included more information in the caption: “We are all guilty of letting food sit out for longer than we would like to. Often, it’s not a big deal, but for starchy foods like rice, it’s the perfect breeding ground for a bacteria called Bacillus cereus. … [It] can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has a handy online resource about leftovers and food safety.
According to the USDA, “Bacteria grow rapidly between the temperatures of 40° F and 140° F. After food is safely cooked, hot food must be kept hot at 140° F or warmer to prevent bacterial growth. Within 2 hours of cooking food or after it is removed from an appliance keeping it warm, leftovers must be refrigerated. Throw away all perishable foods that have been left in room temperature for more than 2 hours (1 hour if the temperature is over 90° F, such as at an outdoor picnic during summer).”
“Cold perishable food, such as chicken salad or a platter of deli meats, should be kept at 40° F or below. When serving food at a buffet, keep food hot in chafing dishes, slow cookers, or warming trays. Keep food cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice or use small serving trays and replace them often. Discard any cold leftovers that have been left out for more than 2 hours at room temperature (1 hour when the temperature is above 90 °F).”
Update 1:26pm CT, Sept. 13: In an email interview with the Daily Dot, Weir said that getting important information out to people is one of her favorite parts of TikTok.
“I’m not shocked that many people had different food storage and leftover practices that I received a lot of comments on. ‘Counter pizza’ is super common, however, not at all safe from pathogenic or bacterial growth that can occur overnight—causing any number of symptoms of food borne illness,” she said.
The popularity of her video has prompted Weir to create more educational videos about food safety. “While this info lives freely online, I may be the first touch point that someone is hearing this information for the first time, and with that comes a sort of responsibility to provide more,” she said.
“I think one thing I’d love to get across is just because it ‘hasn’t happened to you yet’ doesn’t mean that it can’t happen in the future,” Weir said. “All it takes it one time to make you violently ill. 1 in 6 people in the US will get food poisoning each year according to the CDC.”
Weir encouraged people curious to learn more about food handling, cooking, and storage to check out the USDA’s online resources.
The Daily Dot contacted Mithani via email for more information.