Rice is considered a non-perishable food and, in theory, can last years in your pantry. However, if you don’t store it properly, rice will eventually go bad. Here’s what you need to know about rice shelf life and storage methods which will keep rice from spoiling for years or even decades.
Does Rice Go Bad?
Like with all dry staples, rice will go bad if it is subjected to moisture, oxygen, heat, or light. Moisture is particularly problematic as rice acts like a sponge. If you store the rice in a high-humidity area, the rice will absorb moisture from the air and can eventually get moldy.
Oxygen, heat and light are also very problematic for whole-grain rice; they will make the healthy oils in the rice start to go rancid fairly quickly. This is why brown rice has a much shorter shelf life than white rice. Even white rice can go bad though, especially in high temperatures.
How Long Can Rice Last?
White rice will generally last for 4-5 years stored in the pantry, even after the “best by” date.
Brown rice will generally last at around 6 months past its best-by date. However, if you don’t take precautions, your rice storage could easily become infested by insects.
Proper storage methods will prevent infestations and allow rice to last 25+ years.
What Are Rice Bugs?
You can’t see them on the rice, but it’s likely there are insect eggs on the rice when you buy it. The culprits are usually moths or weevils.
If you let the rice sit in your pantry long enough, the eggs will hatch and develop into adults. Those adults go on to lay more eggs and suddenly you’ve got a massive infestation in your pantry.
Rice bugs are actually safe to eat and even add some extra nutrients. However, a lot of people are grossed out by the idea of eating insects and end up throwing away all the infested rice.
To keep your rice stockpile safe, it’s best to take steps to prevent rice bugs, such as freezing or microwaving the rice before storage.
Best Way to Store Rice
It’s not recommended to store rice in the plastic packaging it came in; there’s simply too much risk of insect infestation or damage from the elements. Instead, use one of these methods to store your rice safely.
Method 1: Air-Tight Containers
Shelf Life: 4 years (white rice), 6-8 months (brown rice)
The main reason to store rice in air-tight containers rather than the packaging it came in is to prevent insect infestations. If insects hatch inside the container, at least they won’t be able to escape and infest the rest of your pantry. You should still take steps to kill any insect eggs though, such as by freezing or microwaving the rice first.
Keep the rice containers in a cool, dark place. Heat is especially damaging to brown rice; reducing temperature can double shelf life.
Method 2: Freezer
Shelf Life: Indefinitely (white rice), 2 years (brown rice)
White rice will last indefinitely in the freezer. I could not find one scholarly article which actually researched the shelf life of uncooked brown rice in the freezer. Most websites put the shelf life at 2 years but offer no evidence of where this recommendation comes from.
Regardless, putting grains in the freezer isn’t the best solution for long-term storage. If a power outage occurs, condensation will quickly build up in the freezer and the rice will absorb this quickly, resulting in spoilage.
Method 3: Vacuum Sealing
Shelf Life: 4+ years (white rice), up to 2 years (brown rice)
Vacuum sealing isn’t the best storage method for white rice. The main issue is that vacuum-sealer bags are not air-tight; they will eventually allow air and moisture through. Since white rice can already last a long time in basic storage containers, you aren’t really gaining anything by vacuum-sealing.
With brown rice though, vacuum sealing does help a bit. This is because brown rice is more susceptible to damage from oxygenation, so removing air by vacuum sealing does help extend shelf life.
Note that rice is very pointy and can stab through vacuum sealer bags. Consider lining the vacuum sealer bags first so the rice doesn’t poke holes in them.
Method 4: Containers with Oxygen Absorbers
Shelf Life: 5+ years (white rice), 1+ year (brown rice)
One of the simplest ways to store rice is to put it in clean containers, such as jars or food-grade buckets. If you take the extra step of adding an oxygen absorber packet to the container, the food will be protected from spoilage due to oxidation and last much longer. Without oxygen, insect eggs won’t be able to hatch.
Unfortunately, the seal on buckets, plastic containers and recycled jars isn’t the best. They will eventually start to leak air. You’ll also need to add new oxygen absorbers each time you open the container.
Read more about using oxygen absorbers for long-term food storage.
Method 5: Mylar Bags with Oxygen Absorbers
Shelf Life: 30+ years (white rice), 2-5 years (brown rice)
Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers is by far the best long-term storage method for dry staples like rice.
To use, you put rice in the Mylar bags with oxygen absorber packets and then seal the bags closed. Because Mylar is impermeable and metallic, the rice will be protected against damage from oxidation, light and insects.
Brown rice will still eventually go bad because of its high oil content but white rice can last over 30 years like this.
Read more about how to store rice in Mylar bags