How Long Can Rice Sit Out? [A Complete Guide with Q&A]

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Aromatic saffron pilaf, creamy mushroom risotto, and crispy tofu stir fry! 

They are delicious dishes with one common element – rice! A versatile plant food that blends into every type of dish from savory and sweet to meaty and vegan.

Rice is the major source of carbs for half the world’s population. This staple ingredient, particularly white rice, is an indelible part of the cuisine, festivities, and rituals in many Asian countries. 

If you are a rice eater or love to cook rice often, chances are there will be leftovers after a meal or two. As someone who doesn’t like to waste food but is equally worried about health, you are probably wondering what to do with it.

Should you throw it away as it has been lying around in the kitchen for a while now? 

How long can that bowl of rice sit out?

Freshly cooked rice should keep for 2 to 4 hours at ambient room temperature. 

By ambient, we mean temperature below 40°F.  When the mercury rises above 40°F and beyond, this window reduces drastically.

In rice-heavy cultures, some people tend to let the food sit around for longer, even overnight. They surprisingly seem to stave off the effects of food poisoning. 

For many people, rice does not seem to be a likely candidate for food poisoning, unlike meat or dairy.  However, any cooked food can attract and harbor bacteria.

If you ask food experts, they will shake their heads in disbelief at this practice. 

Is eating unrefrigerated rice dangerous?

For many who eat rice daily and have culturally done it for centuries, eating leftover cooked rice is not a big deal. 

Someone who eats the occasional rice dish may not be accustomed to this food lifestyle, nor do their digestive issues adapt to it. Therefore, it makes no sense for them to risk falling sick. it makes no sense to risk it.

An odd episode of consuming rice that has been kept at room temperature will not kill you or your family. However, feeding kids and elderly persons this rice might sicken them in a bad way.

The culprit that causes this food-borne illness is the bacteria – bacillus cereus. 

So, what is the right way to store cooked rice?

Raw rice can last indefinitely when packed and stored properly. Cooked rice has a much shorter shelf life and requires quick cooling and storing techniques to ensure it remains fresh and tasty.

This guide answers all these cooked rice-related questions.  You’ll find out why rice should not be left on the countertop for long.

How long can rice sit out?

According to USDA resources, cooked foods including rice are safe to consume for about two hours without refrigeration. Beyond this time limit, bacteria can rapidly develop in your food and lead to food-related illnesses including severe vomiting and diarrhea. 

Bacteria love moist foods and multiply with every hour the food is left standing at room temperature. As these microorganisms love temperatures between 4-60°C (39.2-140°F), discard cooked rice sitting out for more than two hours. 

If you’ve read our post on how-long-can-yogurt-sit-out, I’ve explained the reasons.

In short, cooked food has both a narrow temperature range and time range to prevent spilling by bacteria or mold.

Refrigerate cooked rice if you plan to eat it later in the day or the next few days. Freeze this rice for up to three months and use it up before it is affected by freezer burn can occur after that. Another option is to use rice to

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This guide answers all these cooked rice-related questions.  You’ll find out why rice should not be left on the countertop for long.

Can steaming hot rice sit out for longer? 

the same health principle applies to any cooked rice whether it has been freshly cooked, piping hot, or cooled down.  

Eat your plain rice or rice dish as soon as it is cooked and within a couple of hours. Any longer and you’re welcoming bacteria to multiply and play havoc with your digestive system.

How to store hot rice safely?

If you’re not eating the rice anytime soon, cool it down fast or keep it warm.

  • Spread out the cooked rice on a baking sheet or tray and place it near an electric fan or in the fridge for colling quickly.
  • Place the cooled rice in a Ziploc bag (remove as much air as possible) or a tightly sealed container.
  • Use the WARM function of your rice cooker to keep it above 140°F for a few hours but not too long. Modern rice cookers can automatically switch to this mode after cooking is done.

How long can leftover or batch-prep rice sit out of the fridge?

The same rule applies to refrigerated cooked rice or dishes with rice. If you have removed the rice from the fridge, heat it immediately or reheat it within 2 hours. 

You can reseal unused leftovers in a container and store them immediately in the fridge or freezer. A better way is to store it in small batches and remove reheat the amount of rice needed.

How long can rice sit out of the freezer?

You can thaw rice in the fridge for a day or two before you reheat it or use it in another dish. The same rule applies to cooked rice or dishes with rice thawed at room temperature. 

If you have removed thawed rice from the fridge, heat it immediately.  Reheat within 2 hours of it being left standing at room temperature. 

Discover: Can You Eat Undercooked Potatoes?

Can you keep reheated rice outside?

Yes, provided you have heated it well enough to above 140°F. This stays good for an hour or two.

Remember, even reheated rice can cause food poising under the right conditions.


Reheating is not the problem but the way the rice has been previously stored.

If the cooked rice has been left out for a long period or kept in the rice cooker for more than 8 hours, bacterial spores can grow rapidly. These spores may survive the reheating process and release toxins that make the food unsafe to eat.

How to reheat and serve rice safely?  

  • Serve rice when it is freshly cooked.
  • To use it later, cool the rice within an hour or two to 70°F or room temperature. 
  • Store the rice in the fridge at 40°F or lower for 3 to 4 days until you reheat it. Freeze it for up to two months.
  • Thaw frozen rice in the fridge overnight or in the microwave. To thaw a small quantity of frozen rice, add water and heat it back to steaming hot or 165°F. 
  • If you have some leftovers from reheated rice, store them in the fridge within two hours. Reheat within 3 to 4 days or discard it. You can also choose to refreeze it.
  • Do not reheat rice more than twice, preferably once.

Is My Rice Ruined?

Rice stored in a warm or hot for 3 to 4 hours or more may have started decaying. How to identify that the tice is unfit for consumption when white rice doesn’t reveal its spoiled status easily enough?

Here are some signs of spoiling:

  1. Hard and Dry – Rice loses moisture when stored in the fridge and can usually be rescued with a splash of water. When your rice turns hard and dry, almost crispy (unless you’ve crisped it up in the air fryer), this is a sure sign it’s past its best-by date.  
  1. Mold – Any sign of green or whitish mold indicates that your rice is not only stale but fit for the trash can. 
  1. Slimy or gooey – rice can be moist, fluff, or wet but never slimy and gooey. Combined with a weird smell or odd taste,  it indicates a bowl of rice that spells a health hazard. 
  1. Stinky smell – when a fragrant food smells off to your nose and tastes more awful, throw it away without a second glance.

Related: Can you Eat Chicken Left Out Over Night?

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this guide should have answered all your questions about storing rice and what happens to rice that has been kept out. 

Some cultures use fermented rice or rice water by keeping it at room temperature overnight.  

But food safety advice recommended that you keep it out for not more than two hours. 

A couple of extra hours, particularly in winter or cooler weather, should be a cause for alarm. But avoid serving it to small children or someone not in the best of health.

Rice dishes with other ingredients should be consumed within two hours or stored in the fridge or freezer. 

You can always use the “warm” function of your rice or slow cooker to keep your food warm for a couple of hours and ensure that it is safe to consume. 

Have you eaten cooked rice that has been sitting on the countertop for a few hours?  Have you tried fermented rice or rice water?
Tell us about your experiences in the comments.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

I’ve tried to answer some common questions for which readers may need answers.

Can you eat stale rice?

If you have stored it properly, and the rice doesn’t look gooey, slimy, or moldy, days-old rice may be safe to eat. 

Throw away rice that smells or tastes weird, or shows visible signs of spoiling.

Can you eat cooked rice after 5 days?

Refrigeration won't kill the bacteria but it will slow down their growth. For this reason, any uneaten leftover rice should be thrown out after five days in the fridge. Any longer and you risk having enough of the food poisoning bacteria present to make you sick.

Can you eat rice dishes like pilaf and stir fry kept at room temperature for three hours or more?

Whether it is plain cooked rice, steamed rice, or a mixed rice dish, refrigerate it within 2 to 3 hours of cooking. Bacteria can rapidly multiply in food that is kept at room temperature for a long time.

Is cooked rice good beyond a week in the fridge?

As a rule of thumb, cooked food should be consumed within 3 to 4 days. It loses its flavor and freshness the longer it stays in the fridge. 

If you have a rice dish with meat or fish or soups with rice, consume them within 2 to 3 days. Freeze in separate containers for longer storage.

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