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How Long Does Rice Last and How To Tell If It’s Bad?

Dry rice lasts for months, but some varieties keep longer than others. While white and wild rice store for years, brown rice only keeps for about a year until it goes rancid.

But no matter the variety, cooked rice keeps for only a couple of days unless you freeze it.

Want to learn a thing or two about storage, shelf life, and spoilage of rice?

If so, this guide is for you. I divided it into two parts:

Feel free to jump to the section you’re interested in.

Dry Rice

Have an old package of dry rice on hand and some follow-up questions about it?

Let’s answer those.

(credit: Indie Bands With a Mission)

How Long Does Dry Rice Last?

Dry white rice lasts pretty much indefinitely, while dry brown rice keeps for about a year before it goes rancid.

The reason behind that is white rice has its husk, bran, and germ removed. That means it’s missing many of the nutrients that brown rice offers, but it also contains very little fat that’s prone to rancidification.

Because of that, many brands say white rice keeps indefinitely. And that’s why some of them pack brown rice in smaller packages than white rice.

For brown rice, each grain has its outside bran layer (where the oil is) intact, and that’s why it keeps for only a year to maybe a year and a half (e.g., Ben’s Original suggest 16 months).

There’s also wild rice, which isn’t rice but water grass, though it looks similar. Like white rice, it keeps pretty much indefinitely, as long as you store it properly.

Rancid Brown Rice

Brown rice going rancid is a process that takes weeks, if not months. So it’s not like the rice will be perfectly fine one day and smell like old paint the next day.

Instead, it will progress gradually.

At first, you probably won’t notice any changes. Then you might pick up on the smell being a bit weird or the taste slightly different from what you’re used to.

Over time, the off smell will become stronger and easier to notice. The same thing happens to the flavor.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell you at which point you should discard the brown rice. It’s up to you.

My suggestion is quite simple: you throw it out when you can quickly notice that it smells off, or you’re no longer okay with the flavor.

Does Dry Rice Expire?

Dry rice always comes with a date printed on the label, no matter if it’s white, brown, or any other variety.

That date is a best-by date, which is about food quality. It’s not an expiration date, and it’s not about food safety.

So, how should you go about the printed date? Here are some rough guidelines:

  • for white rice, it should be okay for months and years past its date
  • for brown rice, it should stay fine for a couple of extra months, but it’ll go rancid at some point
  • wild rice, like white rice, keeps for years past the printed date

All of the above assumes that the rice didn’t go bad or become unsafe to eat for other reasons. Speaking of which, let’s talk about the signs that your rice is spoiled.

How To Tell If Dry Rice Is Bad?

Signs that your rice has gone bad or is unsafe to eat include:

  • Pantry pests. If any of those get into the bag, it’s time to discard it. Unless, of course, you don’t mind some extra protein in your rice. Jokes aside, throw out the bag and check nearby food products for bugs too. Those things spread quickly.
  • Mold. If there’s any, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you what to do.
  • Dampness or water. The presence of either usually results in mold within a couple of days, and you have no idea how far mold growth has come. Get rid of it.
  • Off smell. Any sour, moldy, or “funny” smell is a pretty sure sign the rice is no good. If it’s brown rice and it smells harsh or like old paint (or reminds you of some other chemicals), that rice is rancid. Once again, discard it.

To limit the chances of any of the above happening, you should follow proper storage practices. Let’s talk about those.

How To Store Dry Rice

Store dry rice in a cool and dry place, away from any strong smells that it can absorb. The pantry or a kitchen cupboard are both great options.

Once you open up the bag or container, remember to seal the leftover rice tightly so that it’s safe from the environment outside.

Plastic containers or those large kitchen containers for things like flour work great. A simple sealing clip is also a decent option.

If you don’t have any issues with humidity and pantry pests, a loose seal (just the top wrapped) is usually okay too. I store rice this way all the time and had an issue only once when pantry bugs infested the cupboard that rice was in.

In other words, the sort-of-sealed rice solution works great until it doesn’t.

Last, you can freeze rice to preserve its freshness for longer. It’s an okay option for brown rice that you want to store long-term, assuming you have some extra room in the freezer. Unfortunately, I don’t, and I don’t know anyone who stores rice in the freezer.

If you want to freeze rice, make sure it’s sealed tight in an airtight container or freezer bag. When you need some, just pour as much as you need and return the rest to the freezer.

I’m pretty sure you know all of the above already, but I still wanted to talk about these for the sake of comprehensiveness.

Cooked Rice

You cooked your rice, and have some leftovers. Let’s talk about a couple of topics that you might be wondering about.

How Long Does Cooked Rice Last in the Fridge?

Cooked rice keeps for about 4 days in the fridge, no matter which rice variety you have. That’s the standard storage time for perishable leftovers, and it applies to rice too.

Some people, me included, keep cooked rice in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, but that’s pretty much the max.

Freezing is a great option if you need more time than that (here’s an article on freezing cooked rice on our sister site Thousands of meal preppers do that every week, and it doesn’t involve much work.

How Long Can Cooked Rice Sit Out?

Cooked rice stays safe for two hours at room temperature, or for up to an hour if the temperature is above 90°F (or 32°C). That’s the official recommendation.

You can be super strict about it or a bit looser and use it more as a guideline than a rule.

For example, your pot of rice is covered and sits on the counter for almost 3 hours because you forgot to refrigerate it.

If you follow the official recommendation, you need to discard it. But if you cooked that rice those 3 hours ago, used clean spoons to scoop it, and promptly covered the pot, the rice should most likely be okay. It’s up to you if you throw it out or not.

That said, if you decide to bend the rules a bit, be smart about it. If you accidentally left cooked rice on the counter overnight, getting rid of it in the morning is the only safe option.

How To Tell If Cooked Rice Is Spoiled?

Here’s what to look for when checking if your cooked rice is still okay to eat:

  • Dark specs and signs of mold. If there’s any of that on the surface, that portion of rice is done for. Give your refrigerated rice a good visual check before reheating it because if it got contaminated, it might grow mold within a day of placing it in the fridge (been there).
  • Off smell. If the rice smells funny, weird, or off in any other way, it’s not safe to eat.
  • Too long storage time. If your cooked rice sits in the fridge for more than 4 to 5 days, it’s no longer safe. It might look and smell perfectly fine, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to eat. If you know your rice might sit in the refrigerator for more than a couple of days, it’s best to freeze it.

As usual, if anything else about the rice seems off, err on the side of caution and assume it’s bad. Better safe than sorry.

How To Store Cooked Rice

Once your cooked rice cools to about room temperature, you should refrigerate it. And make sure it doesn’t take more than 2 hours from cooking to refrigerating the leftovers, just to be safe.

For storage, use resealable containers or even the pot you cooked the rice in, assuming it comes with a lid.

If you have a massive portion of rice to cool down, separate it into smaller ones and spread over a bunch of plates. It will be ready for refrigeration in 15 – 20 minutes.

Next, always use clean spoons when handling cooked rice. Using dirty utensils is an easy way to contaminate cooked rice with microbes and end up with rice that’s spoiled prematurely.

Last, remember that freezing cooked rice is an option. If you have more than you can handle in a few days, it’s best to portion and freeze the rest so that it doesn’t go bad.