What made me ill in my meal-prep?
June 10, 2024 9:12 AM   Subscribe

Made some frozen burritos last week, all were fine - except after one which made me super nauseated. What the hell happened there, and is there something with meal prep food safety I'm missing?

Made some burritos with ground chicken that I know I cooked through. Some onions and peppers and zucchini that I rinsed in the sink before dicing as I have done a trillion times when cooking other things. Some cans of pinto beans. Some pureed canned adobo peppers. Frozen corn. Cooked everything in a pot for a pretty damn long time.

They turned out great, at first! Had them for dinner one night, microwaved them, they heated up perfectly. Had them again the next night though: *awful* nausea, intense bloating. Didn't throw up, but it took everything I had to hold it down. Strange stomach noises happening. It passed after an hour and I didn't get anything resembling serious 24-hour food poisoning, but still. What the hell!

I am trying to wrack my brain for what could have caused this or if I missed something from a food safety standpoint? Did I not rinse the produce well enough? Can something like this happen if your pot isn't clean enough, like if you missed a little spot from last time? I suppose the frozen corn kernels was a pretty old bag, perhaps 3-4 months - I don't see why that would make me sick though, they were just sort of freezer burned and the texture didn't have as much "pop". And why didn't the first couple burritos make me ill? Is it possible to freeze food "wrong" in a way that isn't safe? I didn't individually wrap the burritos for what it's worth, just threw them in a big freezer zip lock - and can't really remember if I let them cool long enough - again, not sure if this is related to food safety more so with texture and freezer burn, right? I don't care about my burritos tasting excellent or having perfect texture, I just don't want to get sick.

Anyway I have like 8 frozen burritos in my fridge that I worked very hard on and probably have to throw out, but trying to post-mortem whether happened was a fluke or what I should be doing differently. I kind of thought making frozen burritos was a no-brainer so if there's any food safety steps that I need to SERIOUSLY be considering throughout the process let me know what I could be missing!
posted by windbox to Food & Drink (16 answers total)
Since nothing happened the first night I'm inclined to think it was something else that you ate or drank and not the burritos. How soon after eating did you become ill? What else did you eat/drink that day?
posted by cooker girl at 9:36 AM on June 10 [7 favorites]

As a long-time meal-prepper (and veteran "I'd eat that" Mefite), I'm going to suggest this was a you thing and not a burrito thing. Either that was Too Much Corn/Too Much Beans/Both on that particular day - I have to be careful about this myself - or your immune system received some other kind of challenge. Or you experienced an external stressor or anxiety that triggered your predator-defense-systems and slowed your digestive processes. And then put corn and beans into that system.

Food poisoning is kinda like getting pregnant - it's actually a pretty complicated process to occur successfully, it's just that most people notice the "wins" way more than the losses. You have to screw up pretty good to actually get food poisoning.

In summary, I'd eat the burritos. But maybe not every day? I usually prep multiple things to keep our meals varied, and I keep them different enough that I don't often have this challenge.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:51 AM on June 10 [8 favorites]

I'd be pretty sure it was literally anything else you ate, drank or touched than the burritos you made.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:52 AM on June 10

Oh, also: Age can be a factor here. Tums w Gas-X is part of our home arsenal for these things.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:53 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]

If you don't regularly eat a lot of fibre, corn and beans twice in a row could cause some digestive distress.
posted by Stoof at 10:01 AM on June 10 [8 favorites]

I'm not sure, but next time if you let yourself puke instead of trying to hold it down, it'll pass more quickly.
posted by wheatlets at 10:11 AM on June 10 [4 favorites]

I think the proper play here is to eat another one and see what happens. It is the best way to rule them out as the cause.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:43 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]

FWIW, a doctor once told me that ‘a lot of gastrointestinal distress that people interpret as food poisoning is actually viral.’
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 10:43 AM on June 10 [6 favorites]

Nothing in your process stands out to me as dangerous. The ground chicken is probably the sketchiest element -- how did you come by it; did it arrive frozen, and if so, how was it thawed? If not, how long did it sit at what temperature? I've literally never managed to poison myself, even with pork or chicken or any kind of mince, but meat sketchiness is apparently location-dependent, so YMMV.

I am not any kind of doctor, but your description of intense bloating and gastric distress that passed after an hour sounds like... not food poisoning to me. I once had a very memorable bout of bloating which I'm 100% sure was caused by not eating all day while bouncing around in a bus during a long road trip and then having a big meal all at once. I have also had similar experiences on a few plane trips, which I suspect were a combination of changes in air pressure and a weird meal schedule. I wasn't nauseous on those occasions, but I have made myself nauseous a couple of times just by eating too much before bed. And of course legumes are notorious producers of gas, so the beans could have just been beaning.

If like me you love beans but would prefer fewer bean-related side effects, you might want to try a digestive supplement that contains alpha-galactosidase, which breaks down some of the indigestible compounds in legumes that make us fart.

I would probably try another burrito, for science.
posted by confluency at 11:56 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry this happened to you, and I'm very thankful that finally someone posted a question like this to illustrate that food poisoning or a stomach virus effects don't have to be all or nothing, they can be somewhere in the middle. All those times people advise "I've totally done that [food handling practice] before and never died" seem to discount all those times when they had weird stomach distress of unknown origin. I would 100% throw those burritos out, it's not worth the risk. We'll probably never know what caused your body to react that way, but could it be that the concentration of "bad things" was there, but not super high throughout the burritos, so the second set of burritos just increased the concentration of "bad things" to a threshold your body couldn't deal with? One other thought was in the time between your first burrito meal and the second, did you eat any food prepared by other people who may have had a foodborne illness?
posted by oxisos at 12:04 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]

Did you possibly just get grossed out by something? Once I made the same omelet I make every single time but for some reason that day it was too wet. The first bite was fine; second bite a little less fine; third bite I nearly booted and had to toss the remainder. I normally have a stomach of iron, but just every now and then some mysterious internal alarm will trip and I'll be in sensitive stomach land for an hour or two. Once I was at a museum openhouse watching someone taxidermy a songbird. They were using cornmeal to dry it out, and the combo of foodstuff + deadthinginnards tripped my vagus nerve and I had to sit down or I was going to fall down. I'm normally a bit fascinated with "gross" stuff, and never before or since have I had a problem with "the sight of blood." I dissected a fetal pig in bio 101 with no issues. Many many times since my omelet encounter of the near-barf kind I've eaten the identical style omelet with relish. Just once in a while your limbic system gets on a hair trigger and decides there's a threat so it sounds the "puke" or "faint" klaxon and ruins the next hour or two.

OTOH, it is a risk, and kind of big risk.

If you can't remember a triggering bite and were having a great time with the burrito the whole time you were eating it and got surprised by nausea after you finished it... well, I would probably opt to toss them. Eight burritos is a lot of burritos to throw away, but salmonellosis is HoRrIbLe. I would be at least a little gun shy.
posted by Don Pepino at 1:22 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]

My first thought was that it's not the burrito, but some other pathogen or irritant you encountered within the previous 48 hours and it just happened to act up after your meal.

It's relatively rare for a foodborne pathogen to be active so soon after the offending meal, but relatively common for a virus or bacterial thing to make its way into your system (and then we blame the last thing we ate, even though it was likely something you touched and put in your mouth that someone previously touched with unwashed bathroom hands. Or whatever!! Could be anything).

As far as the burritos go, idk, I would probably make a small serving and eat it and see how it goes. Then if it's good, eat the rest of the burrito and so on.
posted by knotty knots at 1:37 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]

If it was the burritos (and that is an if -- it could certainly have been something else), then it is interesting that they were fine the night you made them but not the night afterwards. That, to me, would point to issues with cooling. The so-called "Danger Zone" for bacterial growth in food is 40°F-140°F (4°C-60°C), and food that stays in this temperature zone for more than two hours can cause illness. According to the USDA, "That's why the Meat and Poultry Hotline advises consumers to never leave food out of refrigeration over 2 hours. If the temperature is above 90 °F, food should not be left out more than 1 hour."

Food that's left in the Danger Zone doesn't always make you sick, but it can. It's possible you left it to cool a little longer than you thought, and got a bad roll of the bacterial dice.
posted by ourobouros at 2:24 PM on June 10

Is there any possibility you have gallbladder issues? I’ve had mine present this way before: intense bloating and nausea that lasts about an hour. It feels horrible but it does pass, as yours did. It happens sometimes when I eat food that’s too rich.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:32 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]

Agreeing with all of the above and also some anecdata from my own experience: I've lately found myself becoming more sensitive to overly greasy or rich foods, but only if I have them frequently over a short space of time. For instance, I can have pizza or a rich stew or something for dinner, but if I have it for dinner AND lunch as leftovers the next day, I'm in trouble. But if I space those meals out with somewhat plain and easy food between them, I can handle it much better.

So in general I agree with Stoof. I think this was just a case of Too Much for your tummy. Maybe too much fibre, too much spice, but either way this sounds much more like indigestion (which can cause some gnarly nausea!) than anything else.
posted by fight or flight at 4:52 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]

Sounds more like indigestion than food poisoning to me too. One bite that was gristly. Too much fat. Too much, in general - a burrito is the quintessential example for me actually because my brain assumes serving size is "1 burrito" so I don't notice if I'm getting full halfway through and they tend to have fatty things hidden in them that don't break down quickly, so at some point my body just smashes the 'if you eat one more bite I WILL puke" button. Took some effort and attention to realize my stomach capacity has changed with age.
posted by Lady Li at 6:02 AM on June 12

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