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Can Leftover Rice Really Kill You?

One of the latest TikTok trends is videos of people worried that leftover rice can kill you. Stories shared about food poisoning and hospital visits may make it seem so. 

Rice is a staple eaten by almost every culture in the world. The thought that one of our most basic food sources can be dangerous is scary. 

So, can these leftovers really kill you? 

Let’s find out!

Leftover rice
Before you eat your leftover rice, assess the smell, texture, and sliminess first.

How Long Does Leftover Rice Last? 

Throw out anything more than four days old. Although some experts say rice can last in your refrigerator for up to six days, it’s better to be safe than sorry. In fact, as a general rule, you should throw out any old food after four days. And if it’s meat, toss it away after two.

Another option is to freeze leftovers. According to, start by making at least two cups of rice. Next, tightly pack it in your airtight vessel while it’s still hot, and immediately close the lid. Let the container cool completely at room temperature.

Once cooled, it’ll last at least one month in the freezer. Although some experts claim it’s safe for up to six months, we recommend a shorter date range.

How to Store Leftover Rice So It Won’t Kill You

Safely storing leftover rice is easy. Once you know the rules and maintain good food safety, you can be reassured it won’t kill you.

Anything edible has a limited shelf life. And shelf life depends on what you are storing, the container it is in, and the storage temperature. So first, cool your rice down quickly and put it in an airtight container. Sealable glass jars, Tupperware, or double zip lock bags work well.

The next thing to remember is that germs will grow if you leave food out for too long. Be sure to put it in the refrigerator within two hours after cooking.

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Can Leftover Rice Really Kill You?

Theoretically, any food, including leftover rice, can kill you. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 3,000 people die annually from foodborne illnesses. In most cases, however, symptoms go no further than roughly 24 hours of vomiting and diarrhea.

Germs live just about everywhere. Bacteria naturally live on our skin and in our gut. But many grains carry Bacillus ceres. And although it’s harmless in small doses, large amounts can make us sick.

According to USA Today, a 19-year-old had to have his limbs amputated due to severe food poisoning. Another teenager died in his sleep. Although each person got sick from eating leftovers, the article did not share how long meals had been left out or refrigerated.

Stories like these are terrifying. And seeing TikTok videos of people describing painful food poisoning doesn’t help. It’s no wonder people fear that leftover rice can kill you.

Is Bacillus Cereus Only in Leftover Rice?

Bacillus cereus lives in plants, freshwater, dirt, and inside some mammals. The bacteria go from the soil to the rice and then to us. But most of that time, it’s dormant. However, once cooked, tiny spores germinate as your food cools and can eventually make you sick.

This cycle can happen with almost any grain, such as pasta, couscous, and farro. Whether or not it will cause illness greatly depends on how you store it after cooking.

But remember that yucky bugs are everywhere. Many germs grow in leftovers. The blueberries you buy at the store already have tiny mold spores. And bacteria live in raw meat.

It’s also wise to remember that food can get contaminated through your fingers, kitchen counter, or a container. Always wash your hands well anytime you’re cooking.

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How Do You Know if Leftover Rice Is Still Good? 

Look out for three things with leftover rice: smell, texture, and slime. If it smells funky or has a sour kick when you remove the lid, throw it out. In fact, giving your food a whiff before you eat is a good habit. Your body will get to know when something is off.

Another telltale sign to look for is dry, tough rice. It’s a bad sign if it’s lost all moisture. On the other hand, if it’s slimy, then it’s likely growing something. When in doubt, throw it out.

As food naturally decays, commonly occurring bacteria, yeast, and mold can increase. And when preparing or handling ingredients, accidental contamination may happen. Use clean surfaces and cookware to keep your leftover rice from killing you. And understand that food decay gets riskier with time.

Woman eating rice
Despite what TikTok says, leftovers aren’t likely to kill you.

Will Reheating Food Get Rid of Bacteria?

Unfortunately, no. Even though heat may kill some bacteria, it doesn’t always kill all germs. Bacteria on leftover rice is resistant to high temperatures. Although nuking food may prevent bugs from mating, it won’t stop them from pooping. Happy eating starts from the moment it’s fully cooked. If you cool and store it properly, you’ll be fine.

Remember that colder is better when it comes to temperature and rice-loving bacteria. Putting it in the freezer will significantly impede growth, as does refrigeration to a lesser degree. Room temperature is like a welcome sign, as is medium heat. And very high degrees only temporarily ward off spore multiplication.

Are you bored with your rice recipes? Get new ideas with The Essential Rice Cookbook.

Follow Food Safety Tips and Don’t Panic

Stories on TikTok about killer leftover rice may cause mental distress. After all, it’s a wonderful grain that has excellent health benefits when cooked and stored correctly. As a more economically feasible food item, many depend on it for basic survival. 

So, the next time you see a scary video about food poisoning, remember that billions of healthy people eat this staple daily. You will be fine if you store meals safely and throw leftovers out in time.

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