Gastric Contents

The total volume and description of the amount of food, liquid, or other material present in the stomach should be recorded at autopsy. This information is more helpful in identifying the composition of the decedent's last meal, than it is in determining the time of the last meal. For example, a body is discovered dead in the evening, and only breakfast type food is present in the gastric contents. This finding would suggest that death occurred in the morning. The gastric emptying time is useful, however, only if taken in context with other information. In general, a light meal takes approximately two hours to pass through the stomach while a heavy meal might take up to six hours. This rule may be followed as a general guideline, but care must be used. Some foods such as celery or tomato skins take longer than meat or other vegetables to pass through the stomach to the duodenum. The rate of digestion is also dependent upon the mental and physical state of the victim prior to death. An excited person, threatened with violence, may have either a slower or quicker than normal gastric emptying time.

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