The Internet Is Saying Leftover Rice Will Make You Sick: Experts Weigh In

Experts warn that eating leftover rice can cause food poisoning. But, there's more to it.

3 min read

"Do not eat reheated rice!" is the internet's latest nutrition advice.

Several videos that have been recently doing the rounds online, warn against consuming leftover, day-old, or reheated rice as it can cause food poisoning and serious gastrointestinal (GI) issues.

These viral videos have brought to the forefront the age-old debate of whether it is safe to consume leftover, reheated food or not...once again.

Should you avoid eating leftover rice?

FIT speaks to Ruchika Jain, chief clinical nutritionist at Delhi's Fortis Hospital, and Dr Ashwini Setya, an adjunct professor in gastroenterology at Faridabad's ESIC Medical College, to get to the bottom of it.

Here's what the experts have to say.


Is Leftover Rice Dangerous?

Simply put, yes, it sometimes can be.

"The texture of cooked (steamed) rice and the way it traps moisture makes it easy for bacteria to grow on it fast, especially in warmer temperatures," said Fortis Hospital (Delhi) chief clinical nutritionist Ruchika Jain.

She explained that food poisoning linked to starchy cereals like rice and pasta is generally caused by a bacteria called Bacillus cereus. "These B. cereus spores are also heat resistant," Jain added.

"After cooking the rice, if you keep it in room temperature for a long time and don't refrigerate it, then there is a chance that this bacteria can spread very quickly."
Ruchika Jain, chief clinical nutritionist, Fortis Hospital, Delhi

Consuming this rice can then lead to symptoms such as:

  • Diarrhoea

  • Vomiting

  • Dehydration

Furthermore, the chance of the bacteria spreading is even more in the summer and in warmer places like India.

But, It's Not Just Rice

"Any food which is cooked is an attractive medium for microbial growth, But to what degree will depend on what kind of food it is," Dr Ashwini Setya, adjunct professor in gastroenterology, ESIC Medical College, Faridabad, told FIT.

"The process is sped up in room temperature because microbes grow best at around 37o C," he added.

"And not all toxins are sensitive to heat treatment. So reheating doesn't help. This is what is called as food poisoning because of pre-formed toxins."
Dr Ashwini Setya, Adjunct Professor in Gastroenterology, ESIC Medical College, Faridabad

That being said, there isn't much cause for panic. "We've been eating refrigerated, leftover food for years and years with no issues," said Dr Setya.

"If they are exposed to small amounts of the microbes, most people will not develop any symptoms at all, but it can be a cause for concern for immunocompromised people, the elderly, people with GI (gastro-intestinal) issues or sensitivity, and pregnant women. They will need to be more careful," he adds.


How To Safely Consume Leftover Food

Refrigerating rice (and other foods) can help slow the process of microbial growth considerably. However, Jain said, "It's not a 100 percent guarantee."

"This is why it's important that you refrigerate at the right time. Once the rice is cooked, it must be refrigerated within an hour in a sealed container so that it doesn't absorb moisture from the fridge."
Ruchika Jain

"Don't keep cooked rice out in the open for more than 2 hours, especially when the weather is warm," she adds.

So it's safe to consume reheated rice after it has been refrigerated?

"Reheating rice is perfectly safe if the first step (refrigerating) is done right," said Jain, adding that "it has to be reheated at the right temperature."

Dr Setya further said, "Reheating cooked food after it's been in room temperature for a long time doesn't help."

"It's not enough to just warm the food. It has to be reheated at a high temperature, atleast 160o C. Also, avoid refrigerate and reheating food over and over again."
Dr Ashwini Setya

Irrespective of whether the rice has been refrigerated and how long its been kept out for, avoid consuming it if you notice any of these telltale signs of spoiling:

  • It has become more mushy than when you cooked it

  • It's become more watery

  • There's a change in colour or smell

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Topics:  Food Safety 

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