Save yourself from bad rice

We all do it. Cook up a bit of rice, it seems like enough, but generally it’s far too much.

That’s okay, we can heat it up tomorrow with the leftover curry or make it into fried rice.

But beware, because if rice is not stored correctly after cooking, you may be in for leftovers with a side serving of food poisoning.

All those people out there who like to cook a batch of food for a week should start to feel nervous right about now.

The main culprit is Bacillus cereus, a bacterium that is just as nasty as it sounds.

Bacillus cereus spores stay dormant on dry rice and then then bingo, just add water and they are away.

The spores can survive the cooking process and if the rice is left standing at room temperature those spores can grow into fully fledged bacteria in the warm, moist environment of cooked rice.

Food poisoning

Leave it out and let them multiply enough and you will get food poisoning that will probably include vomiting and diarrhoea.  

The good news is, the symptoms are usually relatively mild and only last about 24 hours. Although, that sounds nasty enough.

It usually takes one to five hours for the symptoms to show up, but it can strike as quickly as 30 minutes after you have eaten the offending item.

And don’t be thinking you can just heat it up enough to kill anything lurking in your risotto. There is no temperature other than a complete immolation that will completely rid your food of the bacteria.

But don’t fear your leftover rice. That’s a weird sentence, but hear me out. Throwing it away is a waste and there are few simple steps you can take to have more confidence you won’t spend the next day hurling.

The key is to cool the rice rapidly. If it’s a relatively small amount, put it into the fridge as soon as steam stops rising from the serving. If it’s a larger amount, divide it up into separate containers and then store in the fridge.

However, if you don’t eat it within five days, throw it out as rapid cooling will slow the bacteria growth down, but not kill it.

As a general guide, don’t leave any hot food out of the fridge for more than two hours and try to get rice into your fridge in under an hour.

Takeaway message

You should be particularly careful of takeaway food. You have no idea how and where the food was stored before you took possession of it, and the time it’s spent in a sweaty delivery pack only adds to the mystery factor.

Pack any leftovers into the fridge immediately after you have served yourself.

CSIRO food microbiologist Cathy Moir told the ABC that rice food poisoning was more common in the 1970s when we were all gangbusters for fried rice from the local Chinese.

“Restaurants would cook steamed rice one day, then leave the rice out overnight to cook as fried rice the next day,” she explains.

“So it had been sitting around for a day and the Bacillus [cereus] spores had germinated, grown, and produced the toxins.

“When the fried rice was cooked, the toxin wasn’t destroyed; then the customer consumed the rice and was sick, so there were plenty of outbreaks.

“With the health authorities identifying the cause and educating the restaurateurs, the incidence of this type of food poisoning quickly decreased.”

Have you ever had food poisoning from rice? Will you change how you store it after reading this article? Let us know your tips in the comments section below.

Also read: White rice versus brown rice

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.


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