The Surprising Reason Leftover Rice Can Give You Food Poisoning

No one wants to think about food poisoning when they order at a restaurant or cook a delicious meal, but unfortunately, it can happen. And since some foods last longer in your refrigerator than others, the innocent act of storing your leftovers for a few days could be what makes you sick.

Whether it’s because you cook too much (a common mistake) or bring your dinner home in a box, rice is a food that always seems to be left over after a meal. But did you know that innocent looking rice could easily give you food poisoning? Here’s why (and how to stop it from happening).

Rice seems harmless …

Basmati rice cooke

That bowl of rice may not be as harmless as you think. | vm2002/iStock/Getty Images 

Rice is a versatile and healthy diet staple that happens to taste delicious even a day or two after it’s cooked. And millions of people save it for that reason, unknowingly putting themselves at risk.

Next: The science behind the food poisoning.

… but it’s a breeding ground for bacteria.

Rice dish

Rice should be eaten fresh. | Veranika Smirnaya/iStock/ Getty Images Plus

You might think safely reheating the rice will help since it helps prevent food poisoning from other dishes. But this has nothing to do with the way that rice is reheated. Uncooked rice has cells called Bacillus cereus on it that can survive on rice even after it’s cooked. Bacillus cereus is what can lead to food poisoning.

Next: This is the mistake most people make.

What do you do with rice after you cook it?

Stove top

Don’t leave rice on the stove after dinner. | SweetBabeeJay/iStock/Getty Images

According to an article on Reader’s Digest, the trouble starts if you leave your rice sitting out at room temperature right after you cook it (like most people do). When the rice is left out, the Bacillus cereus cells can grow into bacteria and multiply giving you food poisoning when you eat your leftovers the next day … even if you heat them up.

Next: Here’s how to make sure your rice doesn’t make you sick.

 Here’s how to prevent food poisoning

Leftovers in tupperware

Cool leftovers and put them in the fridge to avoid contamination. | joebelanger/iStock/Getty Images

First, you should serve your rice as soon as you cook it or start eating it as soon as it’s brought to your table. You should also cool any leftovers as quickly as possible, ideally within an hour of cooking it. You can keep the rice in the fridge for a day, but make sure you reheat it until it’s steaming hot all the way through.

Next: There is one exception to this rule.

Sushi rice is different

Sushi California Roll

The rice used for sushi doesn’t have the same problem. | iStock.com/AlinaPhoto

If you prefer to linger over your sushi lunch, don’t worry — sushi rice is different than regular boiled rice. Sushi rice typically contains vinegar, which makes the rice more acidic, meaning it can safely stay at room temperature a little longer.

Next: How you heat your rice matters, too.

Avoid the microwave

opening a microwave door

The microwave isn’t your friend when it comes to reheating rice. | SeanPavonePhoto/iStock/Getty Images 

For the safest results, don’t reheat rice in the microwave. It’s too hard to get it to the near-boiling temperature it needs to be to prevent the spores from living. The bacteria is surprisingly heat resistant.

Next: These are the foods that are most likely to poison you. 

These foods can be trouble

Mung bean sprouts

Bean sprouts can also give you food poisoning. | JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images

Rice might be a dangerous food to mess with, but it’s far from the only thing that can give you food poisoning. Chicken, bean sprouts, beef, and eggs are also top contenders, and some things, like cheese and ice cream, can carry deadly bacteria like listeria.

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