Is it safe to reheat leftover rice?

You don't need to throw out leftover rice, provided you follow these simple safety guidelines.

By Janey Macleod

Cooked rice (copyright FreeFoto.com)

Photo © FreeFoto.com

I recently received this email from a Veg World reader:

When I cook rice, if I have any left over, I always throw it out. That's because I've been told that it's dangerous to reheat rice. But I've also seen recipes for rice dishes that specifically say they can be made in advance and reheated. So is it OK to reheat rice, or will I get food poisoning?

It's a good question - and one that concerns anyone who cooks with rice.

It's true that there's a risk of food poisoning from leftover rice, but the problem lies more in how the rice is cooled and stored rather than in the cooking.

Raw rice contains traces of a bacterium known as Bacillus cereus. Unfortunately, this bacterium survives cooking, especially if the rice is cooked at or below 212°F (100°C) - as is the case if the rice is boiled in water. If the rice is then slowly cooled and stored at room temperature, the bacterium germinates, and might produce enterotoxins which in turn cause food poisoning. These remain in the rice, even after it's been reheated.

For that reason, it's best always to eat rice as soon as possible after it's been cooked. Don't be tempted to cook it ahead of time and leave it a warm place until the rest of the meal is ready.

No need to throw it out

That said, if you have any rice left over after the meal, you don't have to throw it out. Just be sure it's not left hanging around at room temperature for too long. Ideally, it should be cooled rapidly, for example by running cold water through it. As soon as it's cold enough to refrigerate, do so. But you don't have to get too excited about this. Provided you can get it in the fridge soon after you finish the meal, it should be OK.

You can safely keep the rice in the fridge - preferably in an airtight plastic container - for up to four days.

When you're ready to use the rice, cook it thoroughly, either in the oven or microwave, or by frying it in hot oil. Make sure it's piping hot before you serve it.

Can I eat rice cold?

Cold cooked rice is often used in salads (see, for example, our lentil and rice salad recipe). These salads are perfectly safe, provided the rice is cooled quickly after it's cooked. Be sure to keep the salad refrigerated until you're ready to serve it.

What about freezing?

Cooked rice can be successfully frozen. But, again, you need to cool it as quickly as possible after it's cooked.

In general, freezing a composite rice dish, such as a risotto or paella, is more satisfactory than freezing the rice on its own. Again, the same advice applies: cool the dish and get it into the freezer as soon as you can - ideally, within about half an hour of cooking. If necessary, spread it out on a tray and leave it in a cool place to accelerate the cooling.

When you're ready to use it, heat it up straight from frozen, either in the oven or microwave. Make sure it's piping hot all the way through before you serve it.

If you follow these simple guidelines, it will be perfectly OK to reheat leftover rice, and you should have no problems of any kind.

January 2011

Please note: Neither Veg World nor its contributors are qualified to give medical or nutritional advice. If in doubt, always consult a suitably-qualified professional.

If you found this article helpful, please tell your friends: