Psst: Welcome to Ask a Food Editor, our new series where we answer the culinary questions keeping you up at night. Or, OK, keeping you from eating the best meals of your life (which may be even worse, TBH). Have a question for us? Email katherine.gillen@purewow.com!

Dear Katherine,

Real talk: How long is cooked rice good for once you put it in your fridge? Sometimes I keep takeout containers of rice for a week (OK, sometimes longer) but then I read that old rice can give you parasites, and now I’m terrified. Should I be tossing my leftovers sooner?

Sincerely,

No More Mr. Rice Guy

Um, How Long Is Cooked Rice Good for? Our Food Editor Weighs In
Kirill Strikha/EyeEm/Getty Images

Dear No More Mr. Rice Guy,

I have good news and bad news for you. Let’s rip the Band-Aid off and start with the bad.

Please throw your leftover rice away if it’s more than a week old! In culinary school, I was taught that five days is really the maximum lifespan for any leftovers—after that, you’re risking foodborne illness with each passing day (plus, nothing tastes that delicious after a week).

Considering rice doesn’t have many obvious signs of spoilage (unlike other foods), it can be hard to tell if that day-seven container is actually past its prime…but there are a few things to look out for. (More on that in a second.)

First, though, the good news: I’m not sure where you read about these sinister rice parasites, but they’re not real. You can get sick from eating rice that hasn’t been stored or reheated properly. There’s a bacterium called Bacillus cereus that likes to set up camp in starchy foods when they reach bacteria-friendly temperatures (aka the “danger zone,” or anywhere between 40 and 165 degrees Fahrenheit). According to the NHS, leftover rice is a major culprit because one, it’s starchy, and two, it’s often left to cool at room temp for longer than is recommended. (Cooled rice is best for making fried rice because it’s drier and less clumpy.) The leftovers get new life, but the damage has already been done. According to one University of Florida study, the heat from cooking isn’t enough to kill the B. cereus toxins, and you’re left with some, um, tummy trouble when you eat it.

Here’s how to tell if cooked rice is bad:

  • It’s dried out and hard as a rock. The longer cooked rice sits in the fridge, the drier it will get. If it’s crunchy, it’s done. You can maximize its lifespan by storing it an airtight container.
  • It sat on the counter for too long. You should strive to cool hot rice as quickly as possible, then transfer it to the fridge. The longer it hangs out in that aforementioned danger zone, the more time bacteria have to flourish. (TBH, this is true for all foods.) Anything that’s been “cooling” past two hours should be tossed.
  • It’s been chilled and reheated more than once. Again, the goal is to minimize the amount of time spent in the danger zone. Once a food has been chilled, you really only get one chance to safely reheat it. (Instead of microwaving the entire container, just take the portion you want to eat.)
  • It smells weird. Need we say more?

So, how long can I store cooked rice in the fridge?

Five days, max! Ideally, you should use it up within three to four days, according to the USDA. Make fried rice, stir it into soup or just heat it up and put an egg on it.

The moral of the story? Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Always heat leftovers to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit and chill them below 40 degrees Fahrenheit—and don’t let cooked rice hang out at room temperature for more than two hours, even if you’re cooling it down to make fried rice immediately after. (Hot tip: If you spread the cooked rice into a thin layer on a baking sheet, it will cool down at lightning speed.)

Now that you have the burden of a mysterious rice parasite lifted from your shoulders, go forth and cook!

Xo,

Katherine

Food Editor, PureWow 

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