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cereus A type of food poisoning caused by the Bacillus cereus bacteria, which multiplies in raw foods at room temperature. The B. cereus bacteria produces toxins most often found in steamed or refried rice. It is believed that poisoning with B. cereus is underreported because its symptoms are so similar to other types of food poisoning (especially staphylococcal and Clostridium perfringens poisoning).

A wide variety of foods including meats, milk, vegetables, and fish have been associated with the diarrheal type of cereus food poisoning. The vomiting-type outbreaks have generally been associated with rice products, but other starchy foods such as potatoes, pasta, and cheese products have also been implicated. Food mixtures such as sauces, puddings, soups, casseroles, pastries, and salads have often been linked to food poisoning outbreaks.

Nine outbreaks were reported to the Centers for Disease Control in 1980 related to such foods as beef, turkey, and Mexican foods. In 1981 eight outbreaks primarily involved rice and shellfish. Other outbreaks go unreported or are misdiag-nosed because symptoms are so similar to Staphy-lococcus aureus intoxication (B. cereus vomiting-type) or C. perfringens food poisoning (B. cereus diarrheal type).


This bacteria produces two distinct types of food poisoning: The first features a short incubation period after eating tainted food (usually less than six hours), causing cramps and vomiting and occasionally a short bout with diarrhea. Almost 80 percent of patients with these symptoms who test positive for B. cereus poisoning have eaten steamed or refried rice at Chinese restaurants.

The second type of B. cereus poisoning is very similar to C. perfringens poisoning; it appears within eight to 24 hours after ingestion of tainted food and causes abdominal cramps and diarrhea with very little vomiting.

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