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Rice Left Out Overnight – Is It Safe to Eat?

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We’ve all accidentally left cooked food out on the kitchen counter overnight, right? It is a simple mistake that can happen to anyone and, although it may be tempting to simply eat the leftovers, it is always best to toss them out.

It’s common knowledge that certain food items, such as chicken and raw egg dishes, can spoil if not stored properly and become carriers of food-borne illnesses. 

But what about items such as rice? Is it safe to eat rice left out overnight? No, cooked rice should not be left at room temperature for more than 2 hours since it carries the risk of food poisoning.

Uncooked rice may contain spores of the bacillus cereus bacteria that may survive during the cooking process. Therefore, if cooked rice is left out for longer than 2 hours, the bacteria get a chance to grow and produce toxins that make you sick.

Read on to find out how to tell if the rice has gone bad, the cautions to consider when storing cooked rice, if heating it can kill the bacteria, and much more!

How to Tell if Cooked Rice Left Out Isn’t Safe to Eat?

While it may seem harmless, leaving cooked rice out overnight makes it susceptible to going bad and making you fall sick if consumed.

If left out at room temperature, it may carry the risk of causing food poisoning due to the presence of bacterial spores.

rice left out

While the food poisoning usually subsides within 24 hours and doesn’t cause any permanent health issues, it is best not to risk it, especially when it comes to little children and people with compromised immune systems.

Although most food items offer telltale signs when they’ve gone bad, with rice it is not always that obvious and there may be no apparent signs of mold or unusual smells.

Some less obvious signs that your rice has gone bad are when:

It Is Hard and Dry

Depending on the type of rice you are cooking, it can either be soft and fluffy or sticky and chewy. In any case, cooked rice must never be hard and dry.

A sign that your cooked rice needs to be tossed out is when the grains become super hard and dry, and even crunchy at times.

It Has an Unusual Smell

They say that the smell of food is equally as important as its taste, and we wholeheartedly agree. If you’ve ever smelled freshly baked bread or crispy bacon sizzling on the stove, you know what we’re talking about.

When foods start smelling unusual, it is mostly a sign of them going bad, and the same can be said for rice. Just give your cooked rice a nice whiff and if you smell an unpleasant odor, know that it has gone bad.

It Wasn’t Stored Properly

The best way to make sure that foods last a long time is to store them properly. For cooked rice, you must minimize the time it is left at room temperature since the moisture-laden environment can serve as a breeding ground for bacteria.

When it isn’t cooled, handled, and stored properly, the bacteria can cause food poisoning. Therefore, if cooked rice is left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours, it is better to minimize the risk and not eat it.

It Has Been Cooled and Reheated Multiple Times

While it is completely okay to cool and store foods in the refrigerator for longer time periods, there is a limit to how many times you can cool and reheat them.

Since the repeated cooling and reheating process creates the perfect environment for bacteria to grow, it is best to reheat leftover and properly stored rice not more than one time.

For times when you find yourself with extra cooked rice, you can freeze it for another time. However, just make sure to do so in small batches so that you only defrost as much as is required at a time.

How to Safely Store Cooked Rice

When storing cooked rice, there are a few cautions to consider to make sure it doesn’t go bad and stays edible for longer. 

The time that you can safely store it largely depends on how well the rice has been cooled and stored. The best practice is to minimize the time it is left at room temperature and store it in the refrigerator for later use. 

rice in the fridge

However, since refrigeration doesn’t stop the bacterial growth and merely slows it down, as a general rule of thumb, it is best to get rid of any cooked rice that has been sitting in the refrigerator for more than 3-4 days.

In order to minimize the risk of food poisoning from cooked rice you must:

  • Not leave cooked rice at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
  • Cool the leftover rice (including plain rice, rice with toppings such as butter, or dishes that contain rice), transfer it into a dry and clean airtight container, and refrigerate it within 2 hours after cooking it.
  • Keep the rice out of the 40-140°F temperature range since that is where bacteria start to grow.
  • Refrigerate the cooked rice for a short period for a maximum of 4-5 days. 
  • Reheat it only once.
  • Freeze it if you want to store it for longer.

Note: You may also place freshly cooked rice in the refrigerator without cooling it first since it will bring down the temperature at a faster rate, making it safe to be eaten later.

However, to avoid it turning mushy because of the moisture, let the steam out of the cooked rice before storing it in the fridge.

Can Cooking Rice Kill Bacteria?

When cooked rice is left out at room temperature for more than 1 to 2 hours, it may contain spores that can multiply and cause food poisoning.

Is there a way to kill the spores and toxins? Can you reheat the rice to get rid of them? Sadly, you can’t, since the spores are heat-resistant.

Heating the rice or microwaving it won’t kill the bacteria, which is why it is best to either eat the rice as soon as it is cooked or properly store it in the refrigerator for later use.

When it comes to refrigerating it, you need to be extra careful there too since refrigeration doesn’t kill the bacteria either and only slows down its growth.

That being said, any uneaten rice left in the fridge for more than 3 to 4 days must be discarded since it has the potential to make you sick.

Related Questions

Now that you know whether it is safe to eat rice left out overnight, how to store cooked rice properly, and how to tell if it has gone bad, here are a few additional questions we thought you might have!

How Do You Freeze Cooked Rice?

To freeze just-cooked rice, spread it on a baking tray in an even layer so that it cools down properly and quickly.

Next, scoop out individual portions in freezer-safe bags and pop them in the freezer for up to 2 months. Make sure to label the bags with the date so that you know how long you can safely use the rice.

How Can You Safely Reheat Refrigerated Rice?

There are a few simple ways in which you can safely reheat rice, such as using the microwave, pan, or oven

When using a microwave, place the rice in a microwave-safe bowl and break up any clumps of rice that may have formed. 

Add a splash of water and cover the bowl with a lid or wet paper towel so that the steam stays locked in to reheat the rice properly. Microwave it for about 2 minutes until it becomes hot and steamy.

When pan-steaming it, follow the same initial steps and then cover the pan with a lid and reheat the rice on low heat to avoid burning it. Make sure to stir it occasionally until it is hot and steamy.

When using an oven, place the rice in an oven dish, break up the clumps, and add a little bit of water, cooking oil, or butter to prevent the rice from sticking to the dish.

Cover the dish with a lid or aluminum foil and reheat it in the oven for around 20 minutes at 300°F.

How Do You Safely Reheat Frozen Rice?

Similar to reheating refrigerated rice, you can reheat frozen rice in a microwave, saucepan, or oven.

Regardless of the method you choose, make sure it reaches a safe temperature of 165°F when measured with a food thermometer.

You may place the frozen cooked rice in the refrigerator overnight to thaw before reheating in the microwave.

For smaller portions of rice, you can reheat it without thawing it first. Simply place the frozen rice in a saucepan, add a splash of water or broth of your choice, and reheat it on low heat until it becomes warm again.

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