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No need to toss your leftover grains—just follow these simple safety steps to keep them kickin’.

By Betty Gold
March 08, 2021
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Don't have the 55 minutes you need to prepare brown rice? Or even 20 minutes for white? We can relate.

The good news is that with a bit of effective meal prep—and most importantly, planning ahead and being mindful of key food safety precautions—you can have perfectly fluffy rice at-the-ready for curry dishes, black rice bowls, cheesy rice cakes, fried rice, coconut rice pudding, and all your other favorite rice recipes. Simply cook it in advance, store it properly, and refrigerate or freeze it for later. We'll walk you through the best way to reheat it in the microwave, on the stovetop, and stir fry-style so that it doesn't come out dried out or tough, too (hint: it involves adding a splash of water).

But before we jump in, we want to debunk a common food safety myth: That rice is unsafe to save and reheat. This is simply not true. While leftover rice is highly prone to being mishandled (which can cause contamination by a bacteria called Bacillus cereus), it's absolutely safe to eat—so long as you follow the proper steps and safety precautions.

Full steam ahead. Here's what to do.

How to Store Cooked Rice

After you've cooked your rice to perfection, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) says to cool the leftovers quickly to avoid having it remain in the temperature danger zone of 40°F to 140°F for an extended period.

To further reduce bacteria growth, cool your rice faster by:

  • Dividing it into shallow food containers and sealing them with a lid.
  • Placing hot food directly into the fridge or freezer. Risottos or paellas will freeze better than plain rice.

Do not leave rice or any hot food sitting out for more than one hour, and always store rice at 40°F or below. (This includes making sure that your fridge is at this temperature or lower.) Finally, if any leftovers have been left out for longer than two hours, toss them. It just ain't worth the risk of food poisoning.  

How Long Can You Keep Leftover Rice?

The USDA recommends storing leftovers for the following periods:

  • Dispose of leftover rice in the fridge after three to four days.
  • Dispose of leftover rice in the freezer after three to four months.
  • Store foods at a safe temperature. According to the USDA, room temperature is 90°F, which is the ideal temperature for bacteria to grow. Bacteria grow rapidly between 40°F and 140°F.

How to Reheat Rice Safely

When reheating rice, you want to make sure it is piping hot throughout. To get there without drying out your grains, follow these instructions based on the method you're using to warm them. (By the way, it's perfectly safe to eat your leftover rice cold, so long as it was cooled and stored correctly when you first cooked it.)

To microwave leftover rice:

  • Remove the lid from the rice storage container. For each cup of rice, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water. Place the lid lightly back on top to allow the rice to re-steam.
  • Warm in the microwave for 3 to 4 minutes, or until piping hot throughout.
  • Be sure that the internal temperature of the rice is at 165°F or higher. If you’re unsure, use a food thermometer.
  • Serve immediately.

To steam leftover rice:

  • Transfer the rice to a saucepan with 1 to 2 tablespoons of butter or oil.
  • Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water for each cup of rice and bring it to a low simmer. Keep the lid on the saucepan.
  • Stir occasionally. Once the water has boiled off, check that the internal temperature is above 165°F.
  • One it's piping hot, serve immediately.

To stir-fry leftover rice:

  • Transfer your rice to a wok or sauté pan with oil.
  • Stir the rice continuously over medium heat. Break up any clumps, and make sure the rice gets coated in an even layer of your cooking oil.
  • Use a thermometer to make sure internal temperature is at least 165°F.
  • Serve immediately once piping hot.

How to Reheat Frozen Rice Safety

If you froze your rice after it was cooked, simple remove the container's lid when you're ready to eat it and sprinkle the frozen grains with 1 to 2 tablespoons water per cup. Cover the container with a damp paper towel and microwave on high for 1 to 3 minutes (depending on the portion size). Fluff them gently with a fork, then repeat. Let stand for 2 minutes before fluffing once again and serving.