Rice is a staple for many millions of people around the world — simple to cook and versatile enough to accompany all kinds of ingredients and meals.
If you prepare rice often, you’ve almost certainly ended up with leftovers and asked yourself a question that bothers many cooks: will eating reheated rice make me ill? And if it is safe to eat, what are the best methods of warming it through?
Read on to find out.
Can You Reheat Rice?
Whether it’s basmati, arborio or long grain, the general rule is you can safely consume last night’s leftover rice, according to Holly Garrad Cole of finedininglovers.com.
“The short answer is yes, with many wonderful dishes like egg fried rice and arancini reliant on leftover rice,” she said.
She added a note of caution, however. “Rice is considered a high-risk food and no one wants to play Russian roulette with food poisoning.”
Why Is Rice Risky to Reheat?
Rice is high risk because it might contain bacteria called Bacillus cereus, a naturally occurring spore that can survive some cooking processes.
“The real danger” is when the spores germinate and begin to multiply, which happens when cooked rice is left at room temperature, said Garrad Cole.
“The spores are known to be at dangerous levels between 5 and 55 degrees Celsius [40 to about 140 degrees Fahrenheit]. When the spores manage to grow, they produce toxins which can cause food poisoning when consumed. “
As Medical News Today points out, food poisoning does not only trigger diarrhea and vomiting. It can also cause severe complications in people who have existing health problems.
How to Reduce the Risk of Leftover Rice
To minimize the risk of bacteria growth, the most important step is “to make sure you cool the leftovers as quickly as possible,” said Garrad Cole.
The UK’s National Health Service recommends that rice be cooled and placed in the refrigerator within one hour.
Garrad Cole suggests dividing “the rice into smaller containers or spreading [it] out thinly, to maximize the speed of heat loss before refrigerating. “
The type of container matters too. “Store cooked rice in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer. Stored safely in the fridge, rice should last anywhere from three to six days, depending on the type of rice and the storage conditions,” she said.
“When frozen, cooked rice should last up to six months in an airtight container.”
The US Department of Agriculture is more cautious about storing leftovers. It recommends that you:
- Dispose of fridge leftovers after three to four days.
- Dispose of freezer leftovers after three to four months.
When you come to use your leftover grains, you must “only reheat your rice once and make sure it’s piping hot when you do so,” Garrad Cole added.
A common complaint when cooking day-old rice straight from the fridge is that it can be dry, clumpy or crunchy. Harold McGee offers a simple remedy for this in his book On Food and Cooking.
He writes: “Leftover rice is often hard due to the retrogradation of the starch, which is cured by heating it up to the gelation temperature again.
“Rice is easily softened by reheating to 160F [71C] or above, either with a little added water in a pot, or in the microwave. “
It is safe to eat leftover rice cold “as long as it has been cooled and stored correctly,” according to Medical News Today.
How to Reheat Rice
1. Rice in the Microwave
The microwave is “a very easy way to reheat rice,” according to Garrad Cole.
“Simply add a splash of water to the rice in a microwave-safe dish, then lay a wet paper towel directly on top of the rice. Cook on high heat until the rice is heated through. ‘
2. Baked Rice
Another method is to spread the cooked rice in an oven-safe baking dish and cover with aluminum foil.
Garrad Cole said: “Bake at 300F [150C] for about 20 minutes, or until the rice is heated through. “
3. Steamed Rice
For a simple stovetop solution, try this technique used by cooks over the centuries.
Garrad Cole said: “Put the rice in a saucepan with a splash of water, then cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the rice is heated through.”