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How to Store Cooked and Uncooked Rice

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In this article, we cover how to store cooked and uncooked rice for the short-term and the long-term.

Rice is a food staple for more than half of the world’s population. It is inexpensive, easily prepared, gluten-free, and used in combination with many other foods.

Many factors affect the shelf life of rice. Rice must be packaged and sealed and protected from light, moisture, contamination, heat, and infestation.

The type of rice, the storage area temperature and humidity, and the rice’s moisture and oil content are some factors that determine the shelf life of rice.

Differences Between White and Brown Rice

The four main parts of a rice grain are hull, bran, germ, and endosperm. The hull is the hard-outer part that surrounds the grain and is not edible. The bran, germ, and endosperm are the edible portions of a rice grain.  

White and brown rice are two products produced from rough rice. White rice has had the hull, bran, and germ removed, leaving only the white, starchy endosperm. Brown rice has had only the hull removed, leaving the bran and germ layers and the endosperm.

Overall, brown rice contains more vitamins and minerals and has slightly more protein than white rice. The rice grain’s outer layers contain antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and lipids (fats).

When white rice is milled, some of the nutritional value is lost. However, in America and other countries, white rice is enriched with iron and B vitamins. The endosperm of brown and white rice contains mostly starchy carbohydrates and proteins.

The expected shelf life of uncooked white and brown rice is different. White rice can be stored for the short and long term, while brown rice will only last 18 months if frozen.  

Brown rice is more susceptible to spoiling due to the bran and germ layers lipid (fat) composition. The oils’ chemical structure makes it easy for them to oxidize, which leads to the rice becoming rancid very quickly.[1]

How long can I leave cooked rice on the kitchen counter?

Bacteria multiply between 40°F and 140°F. When cooked rice is at room temperature, bacteria multiply and can produce toxins. According to USDA guidelines for safety, anything left on the counter at room temperature for longer than two hours is in the Danger Zone (40°F and 140°F).

Uncooked rice may contain Bacillus cereus, a type of spore-forming bacterium. Since this organism’s spores are heat-resistant, they can survive cooking as they do not activate at temperatures above 140°F. When rice cools slowly (removed from heat), the spores activate and germinate into vegetative cells, leading to toxin production. These toxins may cause ill effects such as vomiting or nausea.

A rice cooker, crock-pot, or bamboo steamer will keep the rice warm until you have finished preparing your meal. If the rice is cooked in a saucepan, it can remain on the stove at the lowest heat setting for an hour. The lid should be on the pan to trap the moisture and prevent the rice from drying out.  

Storing Cooked Rice in the Refrigerator 40°F (4°C)

The USA Rice Federation says you can store the rice in the refrigerator for three to five days. According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, cooked brown rice can be stored in the refrigerator up to four days. To control bacterial growth, the temperature of the refrigerator should be 40°F or below.

If you have leftover rice and want to store it in the refrigerator or freezer, it is important to cool it down within an hour after cooking.

To cool cooked rice, place it in a thin layer on a clean, rimmed baking sheet. Then, fluff the rice with a fork or chopstick. Once the rice reaches 70°F, it can be divided into smaller batches.

To refrigerate the rice:

  • Scoop the desired portions to an airtight storage container or into a resealable freezer storage bag (some people double bag the rice).
  • If using a bag, spread and gently flatten the rice. Squeeze out as much air as possible and seal the bag.
  • Label the container with the name and date it should be used by and refrigerate.

Storing Cooked Rice in Freezer  0°F (-18°C)

The USA Rice Federation and FoodSafety.gov say you can store rice in the freezer for up to six months. Kansas State University says cooked white rice may be stored in the freezer for six months. They did not provide information for storing brown rice in the freezer.  

To store cooked rice in the freezer, use the cooling method described above for storing rice in the refrigerator. Rice can then be packaged in resealable bags (double bag) or freezer-safe dishes for freezer storage.

The bags of rice can be placed on a baking sheet until the rice is frozen. Then remove the baking sheet and either leave them in the bags or group them in a large freezer bag.  

Some cooks think the texture of white rice deteriorates, and the rice gets too dry after one month in the freezer. Others say it can be stored for up to six months without an effect on the rice edibility.

Here is an article on how to clean your rice cooker.

Storing Uncooked Rice in the Pantry  (70°F)

White rice has a longer shelf life than brown rice because of the bran and germ’s oil content in brown rice. The chemical structure of the oil makes it easy to oxidize, which leads to it becoming rancid.

Rice can be stored in airtight containers in the pantry or cupboard as long as the environment is insect-free, dry, at room temperature, and away from direct sunlight. It’s best to store brown rice in the refrigerator rather than the pantry.

The table below provides recommended storage times for uncooked white and brown rice from three educational institutions. This data is based on the rice being stored in an airtight container at 70°F. 

Storage Times for Uncooked White & Brown Rice in the Pantry

Institution

White Rice

Brown Rice

Ohio State University Extension [2]

Up to 2 years

6-12 months

Kansas State University [3]

Up to 1 years

Up to 6 months

Michigan State University [4]

Up to 2 years

Up to 6 months

How to Package Uncooked Rice for Pantry Storage 

One method of packaging white or brown rice is to use a mason jar and a vacuum-sealing machine (e.g., FoodSaver®). After filling the jar with rice, cover with a lid, seal using a food saver attachment and place a ring on the jar. 

Another way to store white rice in a mason jar is to fill it with rice, place a food-grade oxygen absorber on top or in the rice, and put the lid and ring on the jar. The oil content of brown rice prohibits the use of oxygen absorbers.

Plastic lids can be used on mason jars in place of metal lids and rings. Plastic lids can be used with a wide mouth and a regular mouth mason jar (Ball, Kerr, and other brands).

White and brown rice can also be stored in a clean and dry airtight container. The lid should fit well, so the rice is exposed to as little air as possible.

Resealable heavy freezer bags can also be used to store white and brown rice. Remove the rice from its packaging and transfer it to the bag. Seal it most of the way and then push as much air out as possible. Then place the bags in a food storage tote.

Storing Uncooked Rice in the Refrigerator and Freezer

Uncooked white rice in the refrigerator doesn’t necessarily have an expiration date, as long as it is kept from moisture. For taste and texture purposes, rice stored in the refrigerator will last one year, perhaps 18 months at the very high end. (University of Arkansas, personal communication, February 26, 2021).

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln website states that uncooked brown rice will maintain quality for 6-12 months in the refrigerator.

All rice types will last up to 30 years in the freezer except for brown rice, which will last up to 18 months in cold storage. (Michigan State University, personal communication, February 25, 2021).

There are two main advantages to freezing rice. First, it extends the shelf life. Second, it protects against contaminants, insects, and rodents. The key is storing it in an airtight, dry container because humidity will cause the rice to mold.

In case of a power outage, consider the USDA recommends foods that have been warmer than 40°F for more than two hours must be discarded. Keep in mind that if uncooked rice is stored too long, pests such as weevils can grow.  

Another approach to long-term food storage is from the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Science, Brigham Young University.[5]

“Long-term food items (most packaged in low oxygen) will generally have an acceptable taste for at least 30 years (except as noted) when stored at room temperature or below (but not freezing); however, some nutritional losses will occur.”

How to Package Rice for Refrigerator and Freezer Storage

White and brown rice can be transferred to resealable freezer bags, air-tight containers, and mason jars and placed in the back of the refrigerator. White rice can be stored in Mylar bags in the fridge.  

White and brown rice can be transferred to resealable freezer bags, air-tight containers, and mason jars and placed in the back of the refrigerator. White rice can be stored in Mylar bags in the fridge. 

We have read on a couple of pest control websites that a fresh or dried bay leaf in packages and containers of dry goods like pasta, rice, oats, and flour repels pests such as weevils, cockroaches, moths, ants, and flies. The aroma and fragrance of essential oils in bay leaves may play a role in deterring pests.  

Food-grade buckets

Food-grade buckets should be new and made from hard, heavy-duty plastic (so mice can’t chew through).

There are several advantages to using new food-grade buckets for long-term food preservation.

  • Barrier to pest, rodents, dust and contaminates
  • Keep contents dry
  • Inexpensive

Gamma seals provide a quality seal because they keep their shape and don’t warp, preventing bugs and rodents from getting inside the bucket. Also, they are easy to open and close.  

Every month or so, inspect the buckets for rodent activity. If you see bite marks on the container, set traps and put the food in another container. Here’s an article on keeping mice out of food storage.

What is Mylar® film?

Mylar® brand is a registered trademark owned by DuPont Teijin Films ™ for a family of products made from the resin Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET).  Mylar® is one of many trade names for BoPET (biaxially-oriented polyethylene terephthalate), a polyester film made from PET.  

Since Dupont developed Mylar® in the 1950s, various companies have developed comparable polyester films. There are many products similar to Mylar®, referred to as “Mylar.” 

This generic reference is because the Dupont Teijin Films ™  product, Mylar®, has become very popular and has become a generic term like Band-Aids, ChapStick, or Kleenex. An analogy is: Mylar is to metalized bag as Band-Aids is to adhesive bandages.

The term “Mylar bags” or “mylar-type” is used in this article and other websites. Some websites that sell Mylar bags do not clarify that the bags are not made with Dupont Teijin Films ™ Mylar®. The products offered may be just as good as Mylar® or even better. The issue is a lack of transparency from the supplier.

Why use Mylar Bags for Food Storage

Quality Mylar bags provide barrier protection against light, moisture, contamination, and insects if the appropriate oxygen absorber is used and if the bag is properly sealed.  However, rodents can eat through the bag. To prevent this, put the bag in a hard plastic food-grade bucket.

The food does not touch the aluminum since there is a Mylar layer between the aluminum and the food.

Mylar bags come in different thicknesses. The thicker the bag is, the better it is in keeping light and moisture out. If you are storing heavy items, you’ll want a bag with a thickness of 5mm or 7mm. Mylar bags can be sealed with a clothes iron, hair straightening flat iron, or a Bag Sealing Machine. They can be washed out and reused after cutting off the original seal.

Oxygen Absorbers  

When oxygen absorbers are placed in a sealed environment, they remove the oxygen inside. The powdered iron oxide in the oxygen absorber reacts with the oxygen in the air, causing the iron powder to rust.

According to Utah State University Cooperative Extension, these packets absorb oxygen and effectively reduce the aerobic environment to 0.01% oxygen. The absorbing action stops when all the iron powder has oxidized.

The shelf life of food is lengthened when oxygen absorbers are used. They help prevent infestation and slow down the growth of microorganisms such as fungi.

Oxygen absorbers are available in different sizes: 50, 100, 300, 500, 1000, 1500, and 2000 cc sizes. 

Where the oxygen absorbers are placed in the mylar bag is a matter of preference. Some people put them on top of the food while others put it in the middle of the food.

Once the oxygen absorber package is open, use it within 15 minutes. They should be stored in an airtight glass jar or PETE container for up to 6 months.

Oxygen absorbers should only be used with food that is low in moisture (below 10%) and oil. If high moisture content foods are stored in reduced oxygen packing, there is a risk of botulism poisoning.

A 500cc or two 300cc oxygen absorbers are needed when using a one gallon Mylar bag. A five-gallon Mylar bag inside of a bucket requires one 2000cc and one 500cc oxygen absorber.  

Storing Uncooked White Rice for the Long-term

Brown rice is not a good product to store long-term due to its shortened shelf life. It tends to spoil in the pantry within six months due to its moisture content and oils.  

Before packaging uncooked white rice for long-term storage, put it in a freezer at 0°F for three days to kill all stages of weevils in the grain.

After taking it out of the freezer, let it come to room temperature before taking off the lid to make sure moisture does not condense on the rice.

Two affordable long-term storage methods for preserving rice are:

  • Mylar bag, oxygen absorber, and a food-grade plastic bucket
  • Mason Jars

Another way to store food long-term is to use #10 cans. However, can sealers are expensive, and then there is the cost of #10 cans and lids.   

Mylar bags, Oxygen absorbers and Plastic Buckets

One method of storing uncooked white rice for the long-term is to put it in a mylar bag with an oxygen absorber and then place the bag in a food-grade bucket sealed with a gamma lid. This combination provides a barrier against moisture, light, dust, insects, and rodents. Rice stored at a stable 70°F with oxygen absorbers stores well for up to ten years. [7]

It is convenient to store rice in one-gallon bags (use a 500cc or two 300cc oxygen absorbers). The rice will be fresher than if you open the five-gallon bag, take out what you need, then reseal it. If you open the Mylar bag, be sure to use a new oxygen absorber.

If you use a five-gallon Mylar bag the thickness should be at least 5mm. It’s easier to put the bag in the bucket, fill the bag with rice, put the oxygen absorbers (one 2000cc and one 500cc) on top of the rice, and seal the bag. 

If you opened a #10 can with freeze-dried foods and did not use it all, you can store the remaining food in a mylar bag with an oxygen absorber.

Storing Rice in Mylar Bags

What You’ll Need

  • Rice
  • Sharpie
  • Mylar bags
  • Box to put the bags in
  • Oxygen absorbers  500cc/one-gallon bags
  • Heat source: Hair Straightener/Clothes Iron
  • 2x4 (if needed)
  • Bucket w/lid (preferably gamma lid)

Instructions for Storing Food in Mylar Bags 

  1. Check the bags for damage before using them. Label the Mylar bags with the product’s name and the date using a sharpie before putting food in them.
  2. Preheat hair straightener or iron
  3. Fill all the mylar bags (we used 1-gallon bags) with rice leaving enough room so the bag can be pulled tight enough to close ( about three inches from the top of the bag).
  4. Place a 500cc oxygen absorber in each bag. Some people place it on top of the food while others put it in the middle of the food. Put the unused oxygen absorbers in an air-tight bag or a vacuum-sealed mason jar.
  5. Shake the bag to make sure the rice is settled to the bottom.
  6. Using a hair straightener: Pull the bag tight, seal the edge (3-4 seconds), then slowly move along the top edge of the bag. A 2” seal on a one-gallon bag should suffice. Once you’ve sealed the bag, go across the top again to make sure the bag is sealed. (375°F-425°F)
  7. Using a clothes iron:  Use a high setting (not steam). Lay a 2x4 across the box or on the table, put the top of the bag on the 2x4, and seal it with the iron.
  8. Some people suck the air out of the bag before sealing, while others are confident the oxygen absorber will eliminate the oxygen.
  9. Put the bags with rice in a clean and dry food-safe container.  
  10. Close the container’s lid and store it in a dry place where the temperature is a consistent 70°F. Store the buckets 6 inches off the ground and 18 inches away from the outer walls.
  11. Label the container with the date.
  12. Check your newly sealed bags 2-3 days after packaging them. However, after a few more days, if they still aren’t compressed, repackage the rice as there might be a hole in the Mylar. In a dry climate, it might take several days for the absorber to activate entirely.

Mason Jars

There are two ways to store rice in mason jars. First is placing the rice in the jar and removing the oxygen with a FoodSaver® or other type of vacuum-sealing machine. Second is putting an oxygen absorber in with the rice. A100cc oxygen absorber in a quart mason jar is sufficient.

As with rice packaged in Mylar bags, put the rice in an airtight container in the freezer for three days before storing it. Let it come to room temperature before removing the lid.

Final Thoughts  

Rice is a staple in the diets of people around the globe. This affordable and versatile grain is easy to prepare and can be cooked in large quantities. Uncooked white rice has a longer shelf life than brown rice and is great to include in your emergency food supply.

It is essential to inspect your rice for a sour odor, bugs, and mold before preparing it for cooking or storage. Whether rice is stored in the pantry in a plastic bag or a food-grade bucket, make sure it is off the floor, away from outer walls, and in a cool, dry setting.

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