How Long Can Risotto Be Left Out?

How Long Can Risotto Be Left Out?bdsklo /123RF

Risotto, a dish that’s quick to go bad, shouldn’t be left to sit out for more than an hour or two.

When discussing risotto recipes with friends and family, I often get asked the question, “How long can risotto be left out?”

The answer is pretty simple, and it ends up surprising most of them: not for too long, especially when it’s hot outside. Here’s why—and everything else you need to know on the topic.

Exactly how long can risotto be left out?

Risotto, a perishable food, shouldn’t be left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours (1 hour if the temperature outside is 90°F and above). Otherwise, pathogenic bacteria in it can grow to dangerous levels and give you food sickness.

According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the pathogenic bacteria in your food or on its surface double in count every 20 minutes in the temperature range between 40°F and 140°F.

This, in case you ever wondered, is why perishable foods—raw items or cooked dishes that have a limited shelf life or that are prone to spoiling—should never be left to sit out for longer than 2 hours.

Past that threshold, the number of pathogenic bacteria and the quantity of toxins they produce get so big that your body’s natural defenses have trouble warding them off, putting you (and your household) at significant risk of food-borne illness.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that roughly 48 million Americans get sick from food-borne illnesses every year. Of them, a staggering 128,000 get hospitalized, and 3,000 die.

Before I learned about this, I used to wrap leftover risotto plates in aluminum foil or plastic wrap and keep them overnight in my oven, just like my mom and grandma would do.

Little did I know that this was putting my entire family and me at risk!

But that’s the thing about cooking, you know…

They don’t teach it to you at school unless you graduate from the Culinary Insitute of America.

And the topic of food safety—because it doesn’t sell or keep you engaged—is never brought up by cookbook authors, TV chefs, and YouTube cooks.

How to Refrigerate Risotto

Leftover risotto should be stored in the fridge, where it will keep for a few days before spoiling. Once it’s done cooking, let it cool down to room temperature for 15 minutes and refrigerate it as soon as you can.

If you cooked more risotto than your family and you could eat, wrap the plates in plastic wrap—or transfer the risotto dish to a food storage container with the lid closed—and put it in your fridge.

Properly stored and continuously refrigerated, leftover risotto will stay good for 3-4 days in the fridge. Risotto that has sat for longer must be thrown away, as it’s no longer safe to eat.

Can You Freeze Risotto?

Cooked rice freezes well, and the USDA claims that frozen food stays safe to eat indefinitely. That being said, it’s a good idea to use up cooked rice within 12 months. Otherwise, its taste and texture will start to change.

The safest way to thaw cooked rice is to transfer it from your freezer to your fridge overnight. By the time you plan to eat it the following day, it will have defrosted and will be ready for you to reheat.

My favorite way to reheat risotto—and it will quickly become yours, too—is in a frying pan on your stove. For every 1 cup of risotto, bring 1/4 cup of broth (whichever the recipe called for) to a simmer over medium heat on your stovetop. Add the rice in and reheat, occasionally stirring, for 5 minutes.

Looking for ideas? Some time ago, I asked fellow food bloggers about their favorite ways to use up leftover risotto. Be sure to check them out.

Why Cooked Rice Shouldn’t Be Left Out

Rice requires special attention as far as food safety is concerned. So the tips in this article apply not just to risotto but all cooked rice dishes in general.

Uncooked rice can contain Bacillus cereus spores, a dangerous, toxin-producing breed of bacteria prevalent in the earth’s soil. Those spores can survive cooking and will multiply when cooked rice is left out.

Reheating the rice or cooking it a second round, even, won’t make it any safer to eat, as it might kill off most of the bacteria, yet it won’t get rid of all the toxins it produced. These toxins, as most of you can probably imagine by now, are nothing you want to feed to your body.

Bacillus cereus’ toxins can give you food poisoning, which is nothing to joke about. At best, you can wound up with a bad case of stomach pain or diarrhea. At worst, you can start vomiting and need an emergency-room visit.

In case you left risotto to sit out at room temperature for longer than 1-2 hours, and you’re not sure about its safety, err on the side of caution and throw it away.

The Bottom Line

Thanks for reading this far! To recap, we’ve established that risotto shouldn’t sit out for more than a couple of hours. The sooner you let it cool down and store it in your fridge, the better.

Leftover risotto must be kept refrigerated and should be used up in 3-4 days. For up to 12 months of storage, transfer the dish to a freezer bag or a food storage container and freeze it.

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