How To Safely Store And Reheat Cooked Rice

"Just throw away your leftover rice, friends. B. cereus here, it's not worth it," advises chef and food editor, Emily Ziemski in a TikTok video. By B. cereus, they mean Bacillus cereus, a bacteria that produces heat-resistant spores and thrives in improperly stored rice, causing food-borne illness. And based on this risk, this source recommends discarding any leftover rice within 24 hours. If you're clutching your food container of leftover rice in disbelief, don't worry, commenters were too. Many expressed variations of one commenter's sentiment, "I come from a rice eating culture. I have eaten microwaved leftover rice my literal entire life. Never had an issue." And others point out the food waste involved, "Throw out rice the next day?...... In this economy!?"


Luckily, there are some science-backed ways to safely store and reheat cooked rice — without needing to discard it — as noted in a response video by creator and food science expert Food Science Babe. Although leftover rice can indeed cause food-borne illness if stored incorrectly, cooling it rapidly, reheating it to a sufficient temperature, and using it within three to six days will ensure you can enjoy your rice long after the day you prepare it.

Safe leftover rice storage starts with proper cooling

Cooling rice quickly is key for preventing growth of the dreaded B. cereus. This bacteria is found in soil, so other foods that come in contact with the soil can also harbor it, including another starchy favorite — potatoes. B. cereus and other bacteria grow best in the temperature danger zone, which is between 40 degrees Fahrenheit to 140 degrees Fahrenheit and includes room temperature. Normally, bacteria are killed by reheating, but the spores produced by B. cereus aren't. To prevent the spores from popping up, we need to prevent B. cereus from proliferating in the first place by getting the rice out of the temperature danger zone as quickly as possible.


According to the USDA, this means refrigerating rice within one to two hours of cooking. Zojirushi, a leading rice cooker brand, suggests that if you're using a rice cooker like theirs, rice can be kept warm for up to twelve hours, as it maintains a temperature warm enough to avoid the danger zone. For quicker cooling, you can spread the rice out on a sheet pan or store it in multiple shallow containers. Ensuring your fridge is at the proper temperature can also help your rice cool properly.

Reheating cooked rice for maximum safety and tastiness

When it comes to how long you can store leftover rice before reheating, it depends on who you ask. The U.K. Food Standards Agency recommends eating your leftover rice within 24 hours, while the USDA notes that cooked foods of any kind can be stored for three to four days, and, another U.S. authority, extends this window for rice to four to six days in the fridge and up to six months in the freezer.


No matter how conservative you prefer to be with your leftover rice storage window, reheating it properly is key. According to the USDA, leftovers should be heated to 165 degrees Fahrenheit to keep it well out of the temperature danger zone. If you don't have a food thermometer, just ensure that the rice is hot and not lukewarm, especially in the center. To prevent leftover rice from drying out when it's reheated, add a splash of water to it and use a microwave-safe lid. But, if you dry out your rice, there are plenty of dishes that will make good use of it, from fried rice to arancini, proving that leftover rice is not only safe to eat, but delicious.