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Planning and prepping the next couple of days’ meals ahead of time saves time and money, reduces food wastage, and helps me consume a wider variety of nutritious foods. Rice is a versatile and ideal meal prep component – with healthy carbs, protein, and minimal fat. However, is meal-prepping rice for the week safe?
Is Rice Bad for Meal Prep?
According to the IFAS, proper cooking, rapid cooling, and subsequent refrigeration storage is the easiest way to prevent Bacillus cereus-related foodborne illnesses. Ensure the rice is cooled within 2 hours and stored below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooked rice is good for 3 to 4 days in the fridge.
Rice is susceptible to Bacillus cereus contamination during its cultivation and harvest period. While cooking kills most harmful bacteria, some spores can survive and contaminate the cooked rice, causing food poisoning if left at unsafe temperatures.
However, by correctly cooking, storing, and reheating your rice at appropriate temperatures, you can safely keep and enjoy meal-prepped rice for up to 4 days. Here are the 4 top tips on meal-prepping rice.
Rinse the Rice
Although not necessary, I make it a habit to rinse my rice before cooking. This step helps to remove any harmful chemicals, dust, and soluble impurities.
Cook Rice Thoroughly
When cooking the rice in an instant pot or rice cooker, ensure it reaches a minimum temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Boiling or steaming the rice won’t necessarily kill all of the B. cereus spores. Still, it will help minimize the risk of other harmful bacteria.
How to Cook Rice Properly
You can cook most rice varieties using one of two straightforward methods:
- In a pot: Add rice to a pot of salted boiling water, using a 1:2 ratio. Once the rice returns to a boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cover the pot, and allow it to cook for approximately 18 minutes (30 minutes for brown rice), undisturbed. Allow the rice to rest for several minutes before fluffing it with a fork.
- In a rice cooker: Life’s a whole lot easier with a rice cooker. Pop everything into the rice cooker, using the same rice-to-water ratio (1:2), and let it do the rest.
I’ve made rice for years and still manage to forget to set the alarm or check it in time, resulting in a burnt, mushy mess! However, with my new Zojirushi Induction Rice Cooker, I have the pleasure of setting and forgetting it. The model is micro computerized, allowing it to tweak the temperatures and cooking times to combat imprecise measurements.
Rapidly Cool Cooked Rice
B. cereus and other foodborne pathogens thrive and multiply between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit rapidly.
According to The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), rapidly cooling and storing rice is one of the best ways to prevent B. cereus-related foodborne illnesses.
Follow the USDA guidelines and aim to get the rice in the fridge within 2 hours. If temperatures exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit, ensure to refrigerate it within 1 hour.
You can help speed up the cooling process by transferring the rice into smaller meal prep containers or onto a baking sheet. Then, fluff it with a fork to release some of the steam to help prevent your rice from getting hard.
Store the Rice
Store cooked rice in a tightly sealed container (preferably glass) and freeze your prepped meal in the fridge for 3 to 4 days or up to 6 months in the freezer.
Avoid stacking the meal prep containers to ensure sufficient airflow and rapid cooling.
My favorite meal prep containers are PrepNaturals Glass 2-Compartment Meal Prep Containers. These nifty containers help with portion control and are made from borosilicate glass. I use the containers in the freezer, microwavable, and oven.
Should You Reheat Meal Prepped Rice?
After learning that cold rice can help reduce blood sugar levels after a meal, I quickly became a die-hard fan of eating it straight from the fridge.
You don’t necessarily have to reheat rice. However, ensure you’re eating it while still cold. Leaving the rice on the counter to reach room temperature increases the risk of harmful bacterial growth.
If you prefer reheating your leftover rice, ensure to reheat it to 165 degrees Fahrenheit to destroy actively growing B. cereus cells, per the USDA.
How to Reheat Cooked Rice
Below are three effective methods for reheating rice.
- In the microwave: Add the rice to a microwave-safe container and sprinkle some water over it. Cover it with a suitable lid and heat on medium to high heat for about 2 minutes per serving until thoroughly heated.
- On the stovetop: Add a tablespoon of water to the rice and cover it with a lid. Heat on low heat, stirring regularly until the rice has warmed through.
- In the rice cooker: Many rice cookers like Hamilton Beach and Aroma rice cooker feature a “reheat” setting. Add a couple of tablespoons of water and press the reheat button.
Continue reading if you’re still in two about rice being safe for meal prepping.
How Do I Know When Rice Has Gone Bad?
The telltale sign of cooked rice gone bad include a strange, unpleasant odor, a slimy or gooey texture, and moldy spots. Rice left unrefrigerated for over two hours should also be discarded.
Can I Reheat Rice for a Second Time?
It is best to minimize the number of times you cool and reheat rice – and most foods, for that matter – to limit the risk of bacterial growth. A good rule is to only reheat leftover rice once.
Can I Put Hot Rice in the Fridge?
Once cooked, avoid putting hot or warm rice in the fridge. It will cause the fridge’s temperature to rise, placing the rice and other foods in jeopardy of spoiling. Allow the rice to cool down before storing your prepped meal in the fridge, but keep the 1 to 2-hour safety parameter in mind.
Thousands of people rely on rice as a meal prep staple. By following my straightforward safety tips, you can meal-prep rice with a clear conscience.
Happy meal prepping!
Nathaniel Lee is an avid cook, drawing on his decades of home cooking and fine dining experience. He is a contributing chef at Mashed, and his recipes and contributions have been featured in Tasting Table, Edible Arrangements, Insanely Good Recipes, and The Daily Meal.