Rice is one of those pantry staples that seems to have an indefinite shelf life. And while this is mostly true with uncooked rice (the exception being brown rice), cooked rice has a limit to how long it will last. You've done the sniff test, but are you still not sure? Maybe you can't remember how long it's been in the fridge? Here's how to make the call on when to toss it.
As for how long cooked rice lasts, it can vary, and it largely depends on how the rice is cooled and stored. But it's generally a good idea to call it quits if you've had it for three to four days.
Most foods offer telltale signs that they've gone bad, but with rice it's not always quite so obvious. You also need to rely on other (less obvious) signs that your rice has gone bad.
1. It's super hard and dry.
This is your visual clue that the cooked rice in your fridge has reached the end of its days. Leftover rice will dry out more each day it sits in the fridge. But once the grains have become super hard, dry, or even crunchy, chances are that it's been in the fridge well over a few days. Rice is best when eaten a few days from when it's cooked. Any more than that and it's safest to just toss it. Maximize the shelf life of cooked rice by storing it in an airtight container.
2. It was left unrefrigerated for too long.
It's best to minimize the time cooked rice is left at room temperature. The moisture-rich environment offers ideal conditions for bacterial growth. And while refrigeration doesn't stop that growth altogether, it certainly slows it down.
Uncooked rice can contain spores of a bacterium known as Bacillus cereus. Even after cooking, these spores can still survive. When the cooked rice isn't handled, cooled, stored, or reheated properly, the bacteria can cause food poisoning.
So, if you left cooked rice sitting at room temperature for more than two hours before stashing it in the fridge, it might be better to cut your losses and toss it in the compost or trash.
3. It's been cooled and reheated multiple times.
It's best to minimize the number of times rice (and most foods, for that matter) are cooled and reheated. This presents an ideal environment for bacteria to grow. A good rule of thumb is to reheat leftover rice no more than once. After that it's safest to toss any additional leftovers.
Instead, if you find yourself with more rice than you can eat in a meal or two, go ahead and freeze the leftovers for another time.
4. It has an unpleasant smell.
If there's an unpleasant smell coming from your rice, it's a clear sign that it's time to toss it immediately. By this time that rice has certainly been in the fridge for more than four days, and it's no longer safe to eat.