grilled chicken thermometer


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Improperly stored leftovers can give you food poisoning — or much worse, as one college student recently found out.

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A Massachusetts teen, who was healthy overall, ate leftover rice, chicken and lo mein that was no longer safe and experienced complications so bad that he had to have his legs and fingers amputated. The illness, which was originally reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, progressed rapidly and included a stiff neck, rapid heartbeat, shock, and multiple organ failure. The diagnosis: purpura fulminans, a complication triggered by meningococcal sepsis.

The teen had gotten the first dose of the meningococcal vaccine, but not the recommended booster. His roommate ate the same leftovers and only vomited before getting better.

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The extreme case is a stark reminder to brush up on food-safety guidelines. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends throwing away leftovers after only three or four days if they've been properly stored. That means refrigerating leftovers as soon as you get them home — and if they're at room temperature longer than two hours, it's time to toss them.

The goal should always be to avoid the danger zone, or temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. That's when microorganisms that can make you seriously ill, including botulism and salmonella, grow best. Check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer, follow storage directions on labels, and use ready-to-eat food as soon as possible to keep everyone in your household healthy. 

Gallery: Here's How Long You Have to Safely Eat 25 Unrefrigerated Foods

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