Is Leftover Rice Really Dangerous to Eat? An Expert Weighs In on Recent Study
If you order takeout frequently, here's what you need to know.
If Chinese takeout is one of your main food groups, make sure you’re being careful with your leftover rice.
A National Health Service report from May 2018 has recently resurfaced, alerting the public to the potential dangers of eating reheated rice. The report details the fact that a bacterium called Bacillus cereus is commonly found in uncooked rice, and many spores survive even when rice is cooked. These spores may grow and multiply to create toxins when rice is left out at room temperature after cooking, and these toxins can cause food poisoning when ingested.
PEOPLE reached out to Dr. Travis Stork, a physician and member of the our Health Squad, for an expert opinion on the study, and he confirmed its validity.
“The fact that B. cereus can cause food poisoning in leftover rice is something I memorized very early in medical school,” he said, noting that pastas, soups and sauces can also be affected when left out at room temperature. “Food poisoning from rice is commonly associated with fried rice – it has actually been called ‘fried rice syndrome’ – because restaurants that serve fried rice can sometimes leave the rice out for long periods of time to cool before mixing it into a fried rice dish.”
The longer rice is left out, the greater the chance that you may suffer from food poisoning from it, because the bacteria will continue to multiply. Dr. Stork recommends using caution when eating rice from buffet-style restaurants that leave rice sitting under heating lamps for this reason.
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But what about when you’re cooking at home? The NHS report makes clear that it’s not reheating rice that creates problems—it’s the way the rice is stored prior to reheating. Dr. Stork advises putting rice and other foods in the fridge immediately after cooking, storing in a wide, shallow container to help prevent bacteria from multiplying. Rice should ideally be served immediately after it’s cooked, and be thrown out if it’s left at room temperature for more than two hours.
“If stored appropriately, you can store in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours before reheating,” Dr. Stork says. When you do reheat it, make sure it’s heated to 140 degrees, steaming all the way through. Reheating more than once is not advised.
If you’re a fried rice fan, don’t fret just yet. Dr. Stork says you shouldn’t stop adding rice to your takeout order out of fear of food poisoning, you just need to be a little more cautious about where you order from, and how you store it if you plan on eating it the next day.
“I certainly order rice for takeout because the reality is that food poisoning can occur with almost any food if prepared or stored incorrectly,” Dr. Stork says.