Here’s How Long You Can Keep Leftover Rice

Don't hang on to that takeout carton for too long.

<p>Yagi Studio / Getty Images</p>

Yagi Studio / Getty Images

At the end of a demanding workday, you scan the fridge and spot a cardboard takeout container of leftover rice that will, thankfully, help you get dinner on the table in 20 minutes in the form of fried rice, rice soup, or a rice salad. But wait! How long has it been in there, and is it still OK to eat? According to, leftover white or brown rice is safe to eat for four to six days after being cooked and up to six months in the freezer. But that’s only the half of it to ensure you don’t get sick from a common cause of food poisoning. Leftover rice must also be cooled quickly, and stored and reheated properly.

Uncooked rice can contain a bacteria called Bacillus cereus, a ubiquitous microorganism found mainly in the soil that grows in room-temperature rice and other starchy foods. B. cereus can cause nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, which usually go away in 24 hours. It’s destroyed once rice is cooked to 140°F. Handling leftover rice correctly can also prevent spores from developing.

But how do you know whether rice has spoiled in the first place? The first sign that suggests cooked rice is past its prime is a sour or funky, bread dough-like odor. The rice will also take on a slimy texture as time goes on, which indicates there’s too much moisture and that it might be harboring bad bacteria. In other words: When in doubt, toss it.

Ensuring that your leftover rice keeps for the longest possible time begins the moment you finish cooking. Bacteria grow quickly in temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls the “Danger Zone.” So keep hot rice hot, a.k.a. at 140°F or above. To safely store leftover rice, cool it as quickly as possible (within an hour of cooking) to room temperature, or 70°F. To do this, spread it out in a clean, shallow container — or across several for a large batch — to maximize the surface area exposed to air. Once the rice reaches room temp, pack it in airtight containers or resealable plastic bags (no paper or cardboard, which will allow bacteria and odors to creep in!). Date it and place it directly in the fridge or freezer.

Properly handled leftover rice can certainly be reheated, while keeping a few directives in mind. Most importantly, whether using the microwave, stovetop or oven (all OK for rice) always heat leftovers to a minimum of 165°F when measured with a food thermometer, per the CDC. You also may want to dribble in a bit of water to keep the rice from drying out.

If you froze your leftover rice (making it the perfect texture to make fried rice), be sure to thaw it properly before cooking it, either by setting it in the fridge to thaw overnight, or thawing it in the microwave. Never thaw it on the counter, which will expose it to the Danger Zone for too long. Once it’s thawed, heat the rice to at least 165°F. Reheated rice will be safe in the fridge for an additional three to four days, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, the quality decreases each time food is reheated, so only warm up the amount you need — and consider that it might be in your best interest to let that last little bit of old rice go.

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