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Is Reheating Rice a Good Idea?

Posted in Our Blog on December 11, 2018

Leftovers; the meal of champions for busy folks all over the world. My fridge is usually a mixture of easy things for the kids to grab and some leftovers of either take out or things I have prepared a little too much of. I don’t know why, but I seem to think that feeding a family of 4 is like feeding a small Army. I make way too much food on the regular and we are always left with several extra plates which I either hand out to friends who stop by around meal time or just fix them at lunch time on the following days. Did you know though that reheating rice may not be a great idea?

I didn’t know that and have been guilty of it for years. The NHS says that while we can eat leftover rice that the window of reheating may be quite small. The wait time? Less than 24 hours. They also mention that you should never reheat rice in the microwave more than 1 time and to make sure that when you do choose to reheat that the rice should be steaming hot all the way through.

Why is reheated rice so dangerous though? Well if you experience food poisoning because of reheated rice the culprit could be a bacteria called Bacillus cereus. Cooking doesn’t always kill this bacteria and leaving the rice to cool at room temperature allows this bacteria to multiply and grow becoming harmful if consumed.

How do you know if you have contracted the bacteria? Symptoms can arrive as soon as 1-5 hours from eating. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea and typically last around a day.

More information on Bacillus cereus: gives some great information on this yucky bacteria


A variety of foods, particularly rice and leftovers, as well as sauces, soups, and other prepared foods that have sat out too long at room temperature.


  • Diarrheal:6-15 hours
  • Emetic (vomiting):30 minutes to 6 hours

How do you prevent it?

  • If food is to be stored longer than two hours, keep hot foods hot (over 140°F) and cold foods cold (40°F or under).
  • Store cooked food in a wide, shallow container and refrigerate as soon as possible.

While typically short lasting which is why many people never hear about it in 2003 there was a fatal case linked to a pasta salad. Found in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology In August 2003, five children of a family became sick after eating pasta salad. The pasta salad was prepared on a Friday and taken to a picnic on the following Saturday; the remainders had been stored in the fridge until the following Monday evening, when they were served for supper to the children. Because the pasta salad had an unusual smell, three children (B14, G10, and G9) ate only a small quantity. At 6 h after the meal the youngest girl (G7), 7 years old, started vomiting. She complained of respiratory distress and was taken to the emergency department of a local hospital. Upon arrival, her brothers and sisters started vomiting as well. Because the clinical condition of two children (G7 and B9) deteriorated rapidly, they were intubated and mechanically ventilated. All children were transported to the University Hospital in Leuven. During transfer, G7 had severe pulmonary hemorrhage and needed continuous resuscitation. Upon arrival she was moribund with coma, diffuse bleeding, and severe muscle cramps. She died within 20 min, at 13 h after the meal. On autopsy Bacillus cereus was detected in her gut content but also in the spleen, probably by postmortem translocation of the bacterium. A postmortem liver biopsy showed microvascular and extensive coagulation necrosis. Her initial laboratory values showed severe metabolic acidosis and liver failure. All four other children were affected, although to different degrees. The 9-year-old boy (B9) was transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit, where mechanical ventilation and invasive hemodynamic monitoring were continued. After fluid resuscitation, his blood lactate levels gradually went down.

Doctors and scientists used bodily functions (vomit) from the mentioned case to find the bacteria and have it tested to see what really happened to this family. These tests were done with the living and deceased family members.

Obviously stories are not shared to be used as scare tactics but as education. It is rare for this bacteria to cause any severe symptoms, but the risk is always there. People have been known to develop pneumonia and other complications that required antibiotic treatment from consuming something so common as leftovers.

Until recently, I had never heard of this and of course while being really careful in the kitchen while cooking we are often more relaxed when it comes to the leftovers and it is obvious now that it needs to stop. Prompt refrigeration of leftover foods is highly important. We like to get ours put up within an hour of cooking if not sooner. I have stopped reheating rice at all and do not consume it on buffets when we go to those either. There is just something about knowing the true risks that scare people, especially parents into not wanting to do certain things to put their family in danger.

We are also more careful with other leftovers now than ever before. Cooking foods to appropriate temperatures to ensure they are done is super important. Leaving undercooked food out is one of the leading causes of foodborne illnesses and we really try to be careful in that area.

With rice being a “grey area” when it comes to food leftovers and the short time that it needs to be used. So, after cooking please be very careful should you choose to reheat your rice and also remember it is a pretty cheap commodity and when cooking it yourself it could be a great idea to just make a fresh batch. It is one of the easier foods to make, and I love to break out my rice cooker from time to time and make a delicious batch of fresh sticky white rice.

By: Samantha Cooper, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)