Rice is the primary source of nourishment for more than half of the world’s population. In Asian countries, rice is so deeply ingrained that it serves as the central focus of festivities. It is a versatile ingredient that we use in both savory and sweet recipes. We can also grind it into rice flour, which we use to make various dishes such as puto or Filipino steamed rice cakes.
Asian culture and cuisine rely heavily on rice, which means there’s almost always rice leftover after meals or at the end of the day. I cook and eat rice just about every day. Whether it’s going to be white rice in a rice cooker, brown rice in a rice cooker, or even microwaving rice, I cook enough so there’s leftovers.
So to reduce food waste, it’s important to know how to store leftover rice properly. In addition, properly handling leftover rice can prevent you from getting sick! Let’s learn how.
How long can cooked rice be left out unrefrigerated?
Rice is one of the many pantry staples that appear to have an indefinite shelf life. On the other hand, cooked rice has a shelf life that is much shorter than uncooked rice, except for brown rice. Therefore, maintaining the freshness and flavor of your rice depends on following proper storage and handling procedures after cooking it.
Rice spores can become bacteria if we leave it out out at room temperature after cooking. Toxins produced by these bacteria can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Bacteria are more likely to grow every hour we leave cooked rice out at room temperature.
Rice must not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours after we cook it. Because bacteria thrive at a temperature between 4-60°C (39.2-140°F), we should discard cooked rice if it has been sitting out after two hours. It is best to refrigerate within one hour, but some experts say two hours is fine.
The spores will not be killed by reheating the rice. Adults who eat contaminated rice typically recover within 24 hours without severe or long-term damage. However, those with weakened immune systems and young children may be particularly vulnerable to higher risks.
How long will rice last in the fridge?
We must handle rice with care if we’re going to reheat it or eat it later in the day. Storing leftover rice requires that you cool and refrigerate it as soon as possible. If you’re wondering how long cooked rice will stay fresh, generally speaking, it’s best to discard it after three or four days.
Cooked rice must be refrigerated if you plan to eat it within one or three days. It is possible to freeze rice for up to three months. However, freezer burn can occur after that. Another option is to use the rice to make other dishes such as the TikTok salmon rice bowl, Spam musubi, and Thai basil fried rice.
How to safely store cooked rice in the refrigerator or freezer:
- Cool it down as soon as possible.
- Spread the cooked rice out on a baking sheet or place it in the refrigerator to cool down quickly.
- Once cooled down, place the rice in an airtight container or Ziploc bag and remove as much as possible from the bag.
If using a rice cooker, you can keep the rice inside after it’s done cooking. It’s perfectly safe to keep it there for a few hours, but you should do so for ten to twelve hours. However, the safest way to keep rice warm is to use the keep-warm function, which should keep it above 140°F. Nowadays, some rice cookers can automatically switch to the keep-warm setting once the rice is done cooking.
Does cooked rice go bad? Here’s how to tell
Unlike most other foods, rice doesn’t always have obvious telltale signs that it’s gone bad. If you’re wondering, “How can you tell if rice is spoiled or if it’s safe to eat?” Here are ways to tell if your rice has gone bad.
It’s hard and dry
This is your visual cue that it is nearing the end of its days. The longer rice sits out or in the fridge, the more it will dry out. If you notice that the grains have gotten hard and dry or crunchy, it’s probably been in the fridge for a few days.
Ideally, you should eat the rice a few days after it’s been cooked. Even after a day or so rice will harden in the fridge, but if you reheat the rice it will refresh it. But after a week or so, it may stay hard and dry even after you try to reheat it.
It has been reheated multiple times
I don’t recommend reheating refrigerated or frozen rice more than once. It’s best to throw away any remaining food as bacteria thrive in this kind of environment. However, if you find that you have plenty of leftover rice, freeze it so you can have it another time.
There’s an unpleasant smell
A foul odor coming from your rice is a sure sign that you should discard it right away. By this point, the rice has most likely been in the refrigerator for at least four days and is no longer safe to eat.
When the rice was refrigerated, there was a lot of moisture in it. An increase in bacteria causes the fermentation process to get started. If the rice is slimy, discard it.
Presence of greenish-blue or black mold
It’s a sure sign of spoiled cooked rice if you see mold on your cooked rice. It’s also a bad sign if the rice in the container has mold. Toss the rice for any signs of mold.
These signs can help you determine if you need to throw out your rice. However, you shouldn’t rely on these signs solely to determine if the rice has gone bad. If you leave rice out at room temperature for four hours may not have any of these indications and might look like freshly cooked rice.
How to reheat cooked rice
You should only reheat leftover rice once. The quickest way to reheat rice is in the microwave, with a splash of water added to the rice and reheating for 2-3 minutes. You can also use a saucepan with a small amount of water. For other techniques to reheat rice, check out my post on how to reheat rice.