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The Risks of Eating Leftover Rice: What You Need to Know

While most people know to avoid eating raw chicken or unwashed produce to prevent food poisoning, some might be surprised to hear that even cooked grains such as rice can cause gastrointestinal issues. In fact, videos circulating on TikTok show people falling ill after eating leftover rice, leaving many to wonder if it is really that risky or just another health rumor.

Nutrition experts warn that leaving cooked rice out on the counter is not the same as leaving out a loaf of bread because bacterial spores that are heat-resistant can survive even after the rice is cooked and reheated. Leaving rice out for too long at room temperature can encourage these spores to develop into bacteria, leading to gastrointestinal illness.

Food poisoning can occur after a person eats food or drinks water contaminated with certain harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, or toxins. It is a common occurrence, with about 48 million people in the United States experiencing food poisoning each year. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps, which can be particularly dangerous for those who are immunocompromised, pregnant, or under the age of five.

Cooked rice may seem like a low-risk food, but it can harbor bacteria such as Bacillus cereus, which is found in the soil and produces a toxin that causes gastrointestinal illness when ingested. Bacillus cereus is one of the most common causes of foodborne illness, with over 63,000 cases annually in the US. Ingesting leftover rice that has not been stored and reheated properly can lead to what is called “fried rice syndrome,” characterized by vomiting and diarrhea 1-5 hours after consumption.

To properly store leftover rice, it should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours or more than one hour if the temperature is over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Once it has cooled, rice should be placed in a covered container in the refrigerator and consumed within four days. Cooked rice can also be frozen for up to three to four months. When reheating, it is recommended to only reheat a portion and not the entire batch to avoid a reheating-storing-reheating pattern. All leftovers should be reheated to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure safety.

Overall, enjoying rice and eating it for leftovers the next day is a healthy and safe option as long as it is stored and reheated correctly. With proper storage practices, rice can provide important nutrients to keep people energized and well-nourished.