I Left My Cooked Rice Out For 3 Hours: Is It Still Safe To Eat?

Published on:
Cooked rice in a rice cooker with a text "rice left out for 3 hours"

In many places, families let rice sit out for hours after cooking. Some even leave a pot of rice out overnight and eat it the next day. Is rice left out for three hours still safe to eat?

Rice left out for three hours is not safe to eat. After two hours, bacteria spores begin to multiply. Rice bacteria, Bacillus cereus, cause many food poisoning cases every year. Even though your family may be used to leaving rice out for hours or overnight, this practice is unsafe.

How Long Does It Take For Cooked Rice To Spoil?

Cooked rice starts to spoil after two hours at room temperature. Cooked foods, including rice, should be refrigerated no more than two hours after cooking to ensure bacteria don’t grow. 

What To Do If You Left Your Rice Out For 3 Hours

If you’ve left your rice at room temperature for three hours, the safest answer is to throw the rice away. While some may believe this is wasteful, tossing 3-hour-old rice is the only way to avoid food poisoning. It may seem silly, but I never take a chance with rice that’s been sitting out. I always throw it away. 

What Type of Bacteria Does Rice Contain?

Rice contains bacteria called Bacillus cereus, which causes food poisoning or stomach upset. Heat doesn’t kill Bacillus cereus, so cooking won’t completely eliminate the bacteria. Once rice cools below 140° F, Bacillus cereus begins to reproduce. 

Does Rice Bacteria Grow Fast?

Once the rice temperature drops below 140° F, bacteria multiply quickly. If you eat rice within two hours of cooking, bacteria contamination won’t be a problem. But, if you let your rice sit out for more than two hours, it may be contaminated with bacteria. 

How Common Is Rice Food Poisoning?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are about 63,400 cases of rice food poisoning each year. It’s so common that food poisoning caused by rice has its own name: “fried rice syndrome’. Though Bacillus cereus poisoning symptoms are usually mild, they can be problematic for those with weak immune systems. 

What Are The Symptoms of Fried Rice Syndrome?

Fried rice syndrome refers to food poisoning caused by any rice, whether fried or plain. Symptoms begin between one and six hours after eating contaminated food. Common symptoms include: 

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea 
  • Abdominal pain

Symptoms usually resolve in 24 hours, but if they don’t, contact your primary doctor.

How To Keep Cooked Rice Safe

After cooking your rice, follow these tips to keep it safe to eat. 

Keep It Warm For A Maximum Of Two Hours

Safely keep your rice warm for up to two hours. Use one of the methods below:

  • Leave your rice in a rice cooker on the “keep-warm” setting. 
Aroma rice cooker turned on.
  • Place your rice in a heat-proof pot on a warmer.
  • Place your pot of rice in a cast-iron skillet. Put the skillet on a kitchen stove burner set to low heat. If you don’t have cast iron, use any heavy-bottomed skillet. 

Keep your rice above 145° F so bacteria spores don’t grow. 

Cool It Quickly

Cooked rice spread on a baking tray.

Rapidly bring your cooked rice below 40° F. Spread it on a baking tray. Place the tray in the fridge for 20 minutes. Then, store the rice in an airtight bag or container. This is my favorite way to cool rice–it’s fast and easy.

Rice stored in airtight bag with ladle on top.

Heat It To 165° F

When you reheat rice, check the temperature with a kitchen thermometer to ensure it reaches 165° F. When rice comes to this temperature, the heat kills any growing bacteria spores. 

The Bottom Line

Rice left out for three hours is not safe to eat. Rice bacteria multiply quickly, and rice should be cooled and stored within two hours of cooking. If your rice has been left out for three hours, throw it away. 

Sarah Pearce Avatar


Leave a Comment