While rice is one of the most commonly consumed foods in the world, many people don't know the proper way to cool, store and reheat leftover rice in order to avoid foodborne illness. Learn a few quick and easy techniques to continue serving and saving rice safely in your kitchen.

Rice is a staple all over the globe for a reason. It is filling, inexpensive and nutritious. It is also very versatile and can be a great accompaniment to many dishes, or the star of the show. So, it is no wonder that your impulse might be to make plenty of extra rice to have as leftovers. But you also might have heard that leftover rice can make you sick. Which always makes a home cook wonder, do you have to make rice fresh every time, or can you safely eat leftover rice?

Can eating leftover cooked rice make you sick?

The short answer is yes, if it's not cooked or stored properly, you can get sick from rice. Rice has a naturally occurring bacteria called Bacillus cereus. This bacteria is rendered benign by using proper cooking techniques. Bringing rice to a boil (212°F) and then reducing the heat so the rice simmers (85°F to 205°F) until cooked will easily render any harmful bacteria harmless. Once cooked, if the rice is held for more than four hours in the temperature danger zone (between 40°F and 140°F), the bacteria can multiply and then the leftover rice is tainted and could make you ill if you eat it (think mild vomiting or diarrhea for about 24 hours). So, if your rice has been left in the temperature danger zone for more than four hours, throw it out, as advised by ServSafe, the food and beverage safety training and certificate program administered by the National Restaurant Association and accredited by the American National Standards Institute and the Conference for Food Protection.

A hand holding a plastic spoon with a scoop of rice
Credit: Getty Images / seksanwangjaisuk

How to cool cooked rice before refrigeration

Learning proper methods for cooling and storing any cooked food will help keep you and your family safe. No cooked food should be left between 40°F and 140°F for longer than four hours. Cool all hot food to room temperature, or around 70°F, within that window, and then transfer to the fridge to fully chill. For rice, which is dense and can retain heat for a long time, the best way to prep leftovers is to spread the rice out in a shallow layer on a sheet pan to release steam and cool quickly before transferring to an airtight container and storing in the fridge.

How long does cooked rice last?

Cooked rice, once properly cooled and stored in an airtight container, will last up to three days in the fridge or up to three months in the freezer.

How to tell if cooked rice is still good

Cooked rice should still smell good with no off odors, should not be wet or slimy, and should not show any discoloration or mold. If you notice any white or green fuzz or black spots, or if the rice smells a bit fermented, throw it away.

How to reheat cooked rice

Leftover cooked rice should be reheated to 165°F to ensure that it is safe to eat. This can be done in a microwave, on the stovetop or in the oven. In all cases you will want to add a small amount of water to create steam to help revive the rice and prevent it from being too dry. Reheat covered to trap that moisture and help keep a good texture in your revived rice. For leftover rice that has been frozen, let it thaw in the fridge or defrost it in the microwave before reheating.

What to do with leftover rice

Sautéing leftover rice, whether in a fried-rice style, or just with oil or butter, is a great way to bring life back into leftover rice. You can also try it in one of these delicious casseroles: Spinach, Feta & Rice Casserole and Broccoli, Cheese & Rice Casserole.

Bottom line

There is no need to fear cooked rice when it comes to leftovers. Keep it out of the temperature danger zone, cool it down quickly, store it properly and reheat it to 165°F, and you will have perfectly delicious and nutritious rice, even the second time around.