Fresh Pasta - ©

Sunday Musings: Leftover Rice, Pasta Need Special Handling

Since it’s been all over the social media networks this past week, I feel this particular Food Safety rule should be reprised. I speak of the special cautions followed in all restaurant kitchens to handle leftover rice, pasta or other finely-divided starches…

Rice Pilaf with Mushrooms - ©

What happened?

A 2019 social media post has resurfaced, about a man who died after eating leftover pasta. In fact, it’s gone viral.

A 20 year old man apparently developed severe abdominal symptoms after eating 5-day-old leftover pasta. That’s a long time to hold pasta, even at optimal storage temperature in the fridge.

But culinary and medical experts caution that a variety of different starchy foods, left out at room temperature for more than 3 hours, can result in what’s known as Fried Rice Syndrome (FRS).

It’s a bacterial condition that can cause extreme vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps.

And if you contract FRS, you need to go to the emergency room. It won’t just go away by itself.

Rice particularly problematic

The disease is named after Rice because rice is particularly susceptible to contamination. It’s little grains of cooked starch. Bacteria love starch. And a bowl of rice, collectively, presents a huge surface area for contamination – every grain a target!

The University of Wisconsin Madison (UWM) explains, on its comprehensive rice safety webpage:

“Rice and other grains can carry spores of the bacterium Bacillus cereus. Like other spores, Bacillus spores will survive the rice-cooking process. If the cooked rice is not properly cooled, then the [cereus] spores can germinate and produce a toxin that can make a person sick.

“The myth about not reheating rice, or not eating reheated rice, is most likely linked to illness that people have experienced from eating cooked rice that was improperly cooled; reheating would not destroy the toxin and so people got sick from ‘reheated’ rice.”

Don’t deprive yourself

Do you go by the rule that one should never eat leftover rice? Many folks do. Just to be safe. But you need not deprive yourself of the joys that leftover rice can bring to your dinner table! Just learn how to handle it safely, and explore new culinary horizons!

What you should do

The UWM Division of Extension recommends:

Leftover cooked rice should be placed in shallow containers, no more that 3 inches deep, and put directly into the refrigerator for quick cooling.

Don’t cool it on the counter! Move leftovers to the refrigerator within one hour of preparation.

Cover the container as you would other leftovers stored in your refrigerator.

You can enjoy reheated leftovers of cooked rice for 3-5 days. […] When you [re]heat leftovers (of any kind), be sure the internal temperature reaches 165°F (piping hot).

Reheat rice in the microwave

Add 1-2 tablespoons of water for each cup of rice.

Microwave on high, covered, for 3-4 minutes. The added water should have converted to steam.

Use a food thermometer to confirm that the internal temperature in the centre of the rice mass has reached 165 F.

Fluff with a fork before serving or adding to a recipe.

What you can do with it…

C’mon! Get your tinfoil hats on! Leftover rice is a natural for Tacos, Wraps and Burritos. You can also use it in a Warm Salad or toss it into a Soup or Casserole. How about wowing your day 2 diners with Stuffed Peppers? While you’re at it, consider stuffing Baby Zucchini, Eggplants or Butternut Squashes. You can easily turn leftover white rice into savoury Asian fried rice. And there’s also that pan-European classic, Cabbage Rolls.

Got a taste for exotic? Try making some Stuffed Rice Balls or spicy Indian Pakora. Try quick Coconut or Mango Rice. Go Cajun with Red Beans and Rice or Jambalaya! And there’s always Spicy Mexican Rice. Add protein and make it a meal!

I could go on and on. And you can Google leftover rice recipes to your heart’s content. The bottom line: Take good care of your leftover riced and you can make mealtime miracles with it!

Muse on that…

~ Maggie J.