Safe handling of cooked rice

I received a question about the safety of reheating cooked rice. It seems that internet sites caution against reheating rice (at all), or reheating rice only once, or storing cooked rice for only 1 day before eating and/or discarding. Another site suggested that rice had to reheated; in other words that it was dangerous to eat cooked rice without reheating.  Since one of my favorite lunches is a rice and cucumber salad (eaten cold), I decided that the topic was worth a comment or two.

What we know. Rice and other grains can carry spores of the bacterium Bacillus cereus. Like other spores, Bacillus  spores will survive the rice-cooking process. If the cooked rice is not properly cooled, then the Bacillus spores can germinate and produce a toxin that can make a person sick. The myth about not reheating rice, or not eating reheated rice, is most likely linked to illness that people have experienced from eating cooked rice that was improperly cooled; reheating would not destroy the toxin and so people got sick from ‘reheated’ rice.

Preparing rice that’s safe to enjoy for several days after cooking. Cook rice as instructed; I have a rice cooker and use it almost daily. Once cooking is complete, the rice needs to be kept warm or cooled. This means that cooked rice needs to stay out of the Danger Zone. For proper cooling, leftover cooked rice should be placed in shallow containers, no more that 3 inches deep, and put directly into the refrigerator for quick cooling. Don’t cool it on the counter!  Move leftovers to the refrigerator within one hour of preparation. Once cooled, cover the container as you would other leftovers stored in your refrigerator.  You can enjoy reheated leftovers of cooked rice for 3-5 days, or use the leftover rice to prepare a rice salad (Here’s a suggestion for a cucumber, tomato and rice salad). When you heat leftovers (of any kind) be sure the internal temperature reaches 165°F (piping hot).

If you want to use a microwave for reheating leftover rice, try these steps:

  • For each cup of cooked rice in a microwave-safe container, add 1–2 tablespoons of water. Place a lid lightly on top to allow the rice to steam.
  • Place in the microwave and heat for 3–4 minutes, or until piping hot throughout.
  • Make sure the internal temperature of the rice is at 165°F or higher. If unsure, use a food thermometer.
  • Enjoy!

Thanks to Renee Vertin, Washington County, for asking the question that led to this post. Stay food safe. Barb