Friday 25 January 2019

Chunder rice

Being hospitable folk with a few drops of Irish blood, we always cook for the unexpected guest. D'ye remember the old instructions for making a pot of tea: "a spoon of tea for every person round the table and one for the pot" . . . that resulted in tea the colour of tomato soup and able to strip the skin off your palate? . . . not to mention strip the enamel off a tin plate. There is always something left-over in a small pot in the fridge: half a cup of rice; a portion of caldo verde for lunch tomorrow; the last two boiled potatoes; a corner of lasagna. As we gave up on microwave ovens some years ago, these bits and pieces require some ingenuity to make palatable - and safe.

At The Institute, we're in the middle of Yr3 Food & Fermentation Microbiology, this week we're hoping to isolate Gram-positive spore-formers. That would be Clostridium spp. and Bacillus spp. F&F is an introduction to microbes that are either a) essential for the making of some foods - Lactic Acid Bacteria LABs mainly or b) bacteria associated with food spoilage. Clostridium [botulinum] - [tetani] - [difficile] and Bacillus [anthracis] are in a third category c) microbes that will kill ya or make you give at both ends.  Most years, I remember to tell the students about the problems with eating re-heated rice - it's the Bacillus cereus silly. That's relevant in this context because these bacteria, when confronted with adverse circumstances - drying out; boiling water; 70% alcohol; caustic soda - can curl up into a ball and wait it out.  This "spore" is remarkably robust to external insult and can be remarkably long-lived. One of the concerns with the melting of Siberian permafrost is that it will wake up Bacillus anthracis spores which have been in limbo for hundreds of years and release a pestilence of anthrax through any caribou and people who get downwind.

But, I add, nonchalant-like I've been eating re-heated rice on a weekly basis for 4 or 5 decades and I've never had to talk to the porcelain telephone.  Nor has anyone in my family. B. cereus is a natural inhabitant in soil and on vegetation and appears to have a particular preference for rice. You boil it up and that kills almost all the bacteria but some of the B. cereus start the sporulation process and hunker down to wait. A hour later, the temperature is waaay down and the bugs start to wake up again. If you slam them in the fridge at 4oC that will put a stop to their gallop by slowing their cell division but it won't kill them. Every time they are left at room temperature for 30 minutes they double their numbers. Leave them over-night on the counter and they will have increased 2^20 = 1 million-fold.

Here's an interesting but tragic story of an adverse event: A Student Ate 5 Day Old Pasta For Lunch. This Is How His Liver Shut Down. Title says it all: poor fellow died of acute liver failure from the toxins produced by B. cereus but made his prognosis much worse by topping off his fizzy pasta with a generous slug of aspirin [it's the Reye's Syndrome silly]. via MeFi where lots of on-topic discussion and commentary.

You know the Aussie for vomit = Chunder?  supposedly shortened from Watch under! A list of synonyms seems like a bowlful of funny perhaps because they sound the part - barf, hurl, chuck, boke, ralph, hork, puke, spew, heave, yark, york . . . and the phrases: whistle beef; technicolour yawn; russian salad [L]; woof cookies; bark at the ants.

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