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Few things irk me more than food waste—especially when I’m the culprit. But when I haven’t gotten around to cleaning out the fridge in a few days (maybe weeks?) I’m bound to find a neglected item (or two) whose expiration date has quickly come and gone. Truth is, more often than not, it’s the leftover takeout rice. Big sigh.

After telling myself countless times, “I’ll get to it in a few days,” leftover rice is usually the first to go bad. But it’s not entirely my fault. That’s because, according to Trevor Craig, a food safety expert and corporate director of technical training and consulting at Microbac Laboratories, cooked rice definitely isn’t as shelf stable as the bottle of ketchup that’s been hanging out in the fridge since ‘92. In fact, just a few days, eating leftover rice is out of the question for this food safety expert. Ahead Craig shares the potential consequences of eating spoiled rice and how to correctly store it to spare you from any unexpected surp-rices (ha).

So, how long is leftover rice good for?

According to Craig, leftover rice may spoil faster than you think. In fact, he says it’s usually around the four-day mark. So, why the super quick turnaround time? Craig says bacteria is to blame. “The bacteria found in rice is called Bacillus cereus, which is commonly found in soil and dust and can contaminate food during the growing, harvesting, processing, or cooking stages,” he says.

Although cooking rice, in theory, should eliminate the presence of this bacteria, it isn’t always foolproof. In turn, this can make cooked rice unsafe to eat. “The reason it’s the biggest concern is because this bacteria can form spores that protect it from high temperatures, meaning uncooked rice can have spores of Bacillus cereus, which can survive even when the rice is cooked,” Craig says.

That’s when things get tricky and the risk of foodborne illness begins to rise. “Once it’s out of the high temperature it exits the spore stage and back to vegetative cells that are dangerous,” Craig says. Not to mention, other forms of bacteria—aside from Bacillus cereus—that can also contaminate cooked rice. “There are other bacteria, as well, that can be introduced to rice after cooking that can be dangerous depending on the conditions and if it’s able to multiply,” he says.

Two key factors that can influence bacterial growth: time and temperature. “If you leave your rice out at room temperature, the spores can grow into bacteria and multiply,” Craig says. The longer the conditions are just right for bacteria to develop, the more likely you’ll experience a food borne-related illness. This doesn’t only apply to leftover rice; he also notes that other grains, like pasta and quinoa, are equally as susceptible. “They’re especially risky because they are high in starches and generally don’t have anything in them to prevent bacterial growth,” Craig says. “They also generally maintain a high amount of available water for the bacteria to use and grow as well.”

What happens if you eat expired rice?

Best case scenario: Leftover rice doesn’t make you sick. But that may not always be the case, especially if a large amount of bacteria are involved. In the event that’s the case, here’s what to expect. “Bacillus cereus releases two types of toxins that each cause a different illness: One causes diarrhea, while the other causes vomiting,” Craig says. According to him, symptoms will usually present themselves within six to 15 hours of eating the contaminated food. “The symptoms of Bacillus cereus food poisoning are similar to those of other food poisoning, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps,” he s

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