Is It Safe to Eat Leftover Rice?

Yes, if you follow a few simple guidelines.

April 16, 2020
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Photo by: © eleonora galli/Getty Images

© eleonora galli/Getty Images

When cooking at home daily, it makes sense to cook in bulk. This is especially true for foods that you eat regularly, like rice. There is a misconception that it’s not safe to reheat leftover rice. You can take steps to ensure that leftover rice is safe to eat: Make sure that you cook, cool, store, and reheat leftover rice properly in order to prevent illness and food waste. Here are guidelines to follow to make your rice last as long as possible.

How Can Rice Make You Sick?

Uncooked rice may contain Bacillus cereus, bacteria that can lead to foodborne illness. Oftentimes, the bacteria is found in the rice, which is then not cooked to the right temperature or cooled properly, giving the bacteria ample time to grow and thrive in this moist environment. This bacteria likes to grow on food that is high in moisture, like cooked rice , and in warmer temperatures (around 85 degrees fahrenheit to 95 degrees fahrenheit). Bacillus cereus is an issue when cooked rice isn’t handled properly. If rice is left standing at room temperatures for too long, for example, the bacteria can multiply to amounts that can make you sick. This is why it is important to handle your rice properly through cooking, serving, cooling and reheating.

Cooking Rice

The first step to have safe leftovers is washing your hands. Before handling any food, wash your hands properly using soap and water. Next, cook rice according to the package directions. This means bringing the rice to a boil, which is done in order to destroy any pathogenic microorganisms that may be present.

If you’re rinsing rice for food safety purposes, there are no guidelines that indicate that this will make it safer to eat. In addition, some folks rinse rice or soak it overnight before cooking in order to remove some of the starch that causes it to become gummy when cooking. While this isn't necessarily a problem culinarily speaking, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), rinsing or soaking white or parboiled rice may also reduce some of the nutrients added as part of the enrichment process like folate, iron, niacin and thiamin, by 50 to 70 percent.

Serving Rice

How long your rice sits out when you serve it also plays a role in its safety. Bacteria grow rapidly in temperatures between 40 degrees fahrenheit and 140 degrees fahrenheit. After your rice is safely cooked, it should be kept hot (at 140 degrees fahrenheit or above) in order to prevent bacterial growth. If you’re serving the rice and place it in a bowl on your table (at room temperature), then it must be refrigerated within two hours of cooking. If the rice sits out for two hours at room temperature or one hour if the temperature is 90 degrees fahrenheit or above (like eating outdoors), then the rice should be tossed.

In order to avoid leaving your rice out too long, serve a small batch of it for the meal and cool the rest of the batch and refrigerate it right away.

Cooling Rice

In order to prevent bacteria growth, you want the rice to be stored at 40 degrees fahrenheit or below (which is the temperature of the refrigerator). Never place hot rice (or any food) in your refrigerator as it can increase the temperature of the surrounding foods, placing them all at risk for bacterial growth. To cool rice quickly, divide large batches of rice into smaller batches by placing it in shallow containers. Once the food reaches 70 degrees fahrenheit (which is room temperature), then place it into the refrigerator or freezer.

Cooled rice should be placed in a re-sealable bag or storage container. This helps keep bacteria out, retains moisture and prevents odors from being picked up from by the rice. Don’t forget to label your food with the name and the date you should use it by. According to FoodSafety.gov FoodKeeper App, leftover rice can be stored in the refrigerator for three to four days, and it can be stored in the freezer for one to two months.

Reheating Leftover Rice

If you stored your rice in the freezer, then it’s important to thaw it properly. You can thaw it in the microwave and heat it until it reaches 165 degrees fahrenheit when measured with a food thermometer. You can also place frozen cooked rice in the refrigerator overnight to thaw. Thawed rice can be used for between three to four days.

If it is a smaller portion of rice, you can also reheat frozen rice without thawing by placing it in a saucepan with a splash or liquid (like water or broth). As long as you reheat it quickly (in less than two hours), doing it by this method is safe.

Reheated rice, no matter which method you use, should reach 165 degrees fahrenheit when measured with a food thermometer.

If you have leftovers from your reheated rice, as long as you have been following the proper food safety guidelines above, you can refreeze the leftovers. If refrigerated leftovers were reheated to 165 degrees fahrenheit and proper guidelines were followed, the leftovers can still be place in the refrigerator and reused again within the three to four days of when it was originally refrigerated.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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