Be careful with that leftover Chinese.
My long commute makes me ravenous. When I got home yesterday, I immediately heated up some Trader Joe’s potstickers and some leftover rice my parents had cooked an hour earlier. Today, I’ve felt fine — no food stomach cramps or diarrhea here.
Maybe this time I was lucky. Leftover rice can actually cause food poisoning if stored incorrectly. Uncooked rice contains spores of Bacillus cereus, a bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Sometimes, the spores are able to survive cooking. When cooked rice is left out in room temperature for too long, spores can germinate and multiply bacteria, creating toxins that make you sick.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say around 63,000 cases of Bacillus cereus get reported every year, but it’s unclear how many are related to rice. While the food staple’s hidden toxins probably aren’t an imminent danger, it’s good to be cautious and change habits before you find yourself sitting on the toilet after a feast of orange chicken and white rice.
Next time you whip up a bowl of rice, remember this: Serve rice as soon as it’s cooked and refrigerate leftovers within an hour. Only reheat once and throw rice out after a day passes. When it’s time to reheat, make sure the rice is hot all the way through.
It’s easy to control how you reheat and eat rice at home, but should you worry about eating out or ordering in? A food scientist from Rutgers University told Life Hacker that some restaurants cook a batch of rice, keep it at room temperature and serve it to diners throughout the day. Not a great sign. If you’re really concerned about the chance of food poisoning, ask the waiter about how the kitchen prepares rice.
Oh, and sushi lovers, don’t put down your chopsticks just yet: the vinegar added to sushi rice lowers its pH, which makes it safe to be at room temperature. Enjoy that spicy tuna roll with full confidence.
Do you have a pot of rice festering on your stove right now? Get that in the fridge. Your digestive tract will thank you.