Food & Wine

How to tell if leftover rice is safe to eat

How to tell if leftover rice is safe to eat

Meal prepping for a busy week? Or keeping leftovers in the fridge? Here’s all you need to know about storing rice. 

How long does rice last in the fridge? 

Cooked white rice lasts in the fridge upto four to seven days. If you stored your rice properly it will have a much longer shelf life. However, don’t completely rely on this general rule: use your sense of smell or the rice’s texture to help you judge if it’s still safe to eat.

Does rice go off?

Yes, your cooked rice can go off, and it goes off much faster depending on how it was stored. Here are a few signs that your rice is no longer safe to eat.

  1. It has a strange smell. If your rice smells a bit funky and sour, that may be a sign that bacteria is already growing in your leftovers, so it’s best to throw it out.

  2. Your rice is dry, crumbly, and tough. Rice that’s been in the fridge for too long will have lost a lot of its moisture content. Even if it doesn’t smell strange yet, it could be an indication that it has been sitting there for too long. 

  3. The rice is slimy. This is a sign that rice had too much moisture when it was refrigerated, essentially helping bacteria grow which then leads to the first stages of fermentation.

Why do I feel sick?

CSIRO food microbiologist Cathy Moir, says the Bacillus cereus, a spore forming bacterium that produces toxins that cause vomiting or diarrhoea, is what makes you sick.

Have you experienced food poisoning after eating a bad batch of rice? Sometimes it only takes 30 minutes for the nasty bacteria to produce toxins that make you feel ill.

The classic symptoms of food poisoning are diarrhea, vomiting, and can upset the stomach. If you have food poisoning from your expired rice, drink plenty of water, avoid food for a few hours, then slowly ease your stomach back into gear by eating bland food like bananas and saltines.

But it’s not just rice. Bacillus cereus is commonly found in soil and sometimes in plant foods that are grown close to the ground, like legumes, cereals and spices.

When food is cooked and handled properly, Bacillus cereus is not a problem. The major issue at hand is dry conditions - think rice packets or spice containers.

Can you cook the rice to kill the spores?

Unfortunately not, the cooking process doesn't kill the heat-resistant spores or the toxin the bacteria produces. Cooked rice is a breeding ground for bacteria, as it loves moist and warm environments. If anything, the spores will thrive especially when other bacteria are already present in the initial stages of cooking. 

It’s good practice to store your rice in the fridge, preferably within an hour of cooking it, but definitely within four hours.

However, keep in mind that refrigeration won't kill the bacteria but it will slow down their growth.

Does the rice variety make a difference?

White rice generally lasts a bit longer than other rice from between five to seven days in the fridge. Brown rice on the other hand lasts only four to five days in the fridge. This is because brown rice is less processed than white rice, and the oils that make it healthier are also the reason why it expires faster.

Wild rice also has the same expiry period as white rice. 

Can you eat cold rice?

If you are cooking rice to consume later, wait until the steam stops rising, then cover the rice and put it in the fridge.

As a preventative measure, this will help it stay out of the food temperature danger zone which is 5-60 degrees.

For large portions of hot rice, scoop the rice and place into shallow trays to get them to cool faster. But do not stack the containers until the rice is cool.

Cold rice is just as safe to eat as hot rice, although you may have issues with the texture. Use the same tips as recommended above to know if it’s still okay to eat.

Can you freeze cooked rice?

Absolutely. Freezing your cooked rice is a great way to ensure that you don’t let any leftovers go rancid in your refrigerator, and you can conveniently defrost it any time for your meals. However, you should add a little bit more moisture into your leftover rice – perhaps some olive oil or butter – because it’s lost a bit of water through the freezing process.

Cooked rice in the fridge will last less than a week, but frozen rice will have a shelf life anywhere from six to eight months in your freezer before it’s not okay to eat anymore. If you cook rice in large batches, storing it in airtight containers and freezing it is a good way to cut your meal prep time and eliminate food wastage.

Tips for storing cooked rice

  1. Let your rice cool properly before you put it in the fridge. Putting your rice in the fridge while it’s still hot can allow moisture to pool and collect, which encourages bacterial growth and makes your rice spoil faster.

  2. Use airtight containers. Keep unwanted moisture out of refrigerated rice by using resealable plastic bags, or airtight containers. The less exposure to bacteria, the safer it will be to eat the next day.

  3. Only reheat what you’re going to eat. Reheating and cooling your rice multiple times creates opportunities for bacteria to grow, so just get the portion you want to eat and heat that. If you have too much leftover rice, freeze it.

When in doubt, throw it out

Proper storage is the key to avoiding food poisoning. If you’re not sure if your cooked rice is still safe to eat, the smartest thing to do is to throw it in the bin. It may be wasteful, but it’s better than dealing with stomach cramps from spoiled leftovers. In the future, put your cooked rice in the freezer if you’re not going to eat it ASAP.

Image: Getty

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