The Most Dangerous Leftovers

A to-go container on top of two platesHave you ever brought home leftovers from a Chinese restaurant to enjoy the next day?

If you included rice in your take-home container, you may want to reconsider.

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Reheated rice could be a quick path to getting you a nasty case of food poisoning.

Why You Shouldn’t Reheat Rice

No one likes to waste food, which is why so many people bring home their leftover rice to eat the following day. Few think of rice as being a food likely to cause food-borne illness, but it is, especially if it’s improperly handled.

Raw rice may contain spores of bacteria called Bacillus cereus. These spores form to protect the bacteria from heat and other outside influences, and they aren’t easily destroyed – even by cooking. Even though Bacillus cereus spores aren’t readily eliminated by cooking, eating rice is unlikely to cause food poisoning if the rice is kept hot before serving – and not allowed to set around on a counter at room temperature. If this happens, the spores can germinate into active bacteria. For this reason, rice should always be served immediately after it’s prepared.

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Does Reheating Rice to a High Temperature Kill the Bacteria?

Bacillus cereus spores aren’t easily destroyed by heat, so even if you reheat rice to a high temperature, you won’t necessarily kill them – and the heat can actually activate them so they’re able to cause food poisoning. The only way to avoid this problem is to cook rice thoroughly and cool it very quickly before storing it in the refrigerator – without letting it cool down to room temperature slowly. If it’s done properly, it’s safe to reheat rice no more than one time, but make sure it’s heated thoroughly.

What are the Symptoms of Rice Food Poisoning?

The bacillus cereus bacteria that cause rice food poisoning produce an enterotoxin that causes vomiting or diarrhea. If a person is unfortunate enough to ingest some of the spores, symptoms of nausea and vomiting usually appear pretty quickly – within four or five hours. There’s another form of rice food poisoning from bacillus cereus that takes longer to develop (eight to twenty hours) and mainly has symptoms of diarrhea and abdominal cramping.

READ: Is Your Rice Safe?

Don’t Reheat Rice from a Restaurant

Bringing home rice is dangerous, especially if you don’t know how it was prepared. The rice has the opportunity to set at room temperature before it can be refrigerated, which allows the spores to germinate. If you take home leftovers from a restaurant–leave the rice behind. That includes fried rice, which is the culprit in many cases of rice food poisoning. Don’t take chances with your health by reheating restaurant rice at home.

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