Quinoa is a versatile, nutritious whole grain considered a staple for plant-based diets. It’s a new food for many, which means you may not be sure how best to handle it for food safety. Can you get food poisoning from it? Can you reheat quinoa, or should leftovers be thrown away?
We all hate to see food go to waste, but it’s important to avoid eating food that bacteria and other harmful microorganisms have potentially contaminated. As a registered dietitian, I’ll discuss the best ways to handle leftover quinoa.
What is quinoa?
Quinoa is a popular pseudo-cereal classified as a whole grain. These tiny seeds are native to Peru and Bolivia and are a staple ingredient in plant-based cooking. They’re often used in stews, soups, salads, and as a base for bean-and-grain bowls.
Quinoa comes in a few different colors: white, red, and black. You can often find tricolor quinoa, a blend of all three colors, in grocery store bulk aisles.
Quinoa is also often used as a higher-protein replacement for rice. Cooked quinoa contains 8 grams of protein in one cup and is rich in dietary fiber, iron, zinc, magnesium, and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals.
Can you reheat quinoa safely?
As with other foods, quinoa can be reheated safely as long as proper food handling procedures are followed. Since cooked quinoa is a high-moisture food1, bacteria and other microorganisms can grow easily in it.
Like rice, one of the riskiest foods for food poisoning, dry quinoa often contains bacterial strains (such as Bacillus cereus) that can survive boiling and even pasteurization2 and thrive in the moisture provided by cooked grains. This means bacteria can multiply very quickly in cooked quinoa.
After the initial cooking, quinoa should be cooled to room temperature within 1-2 hours and then stored in the refrigerator below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in an airtight container. You can also freeze quinoa. These cold temperatures significantly slow down the growth of new bacteria, although they don’t stop it completely.
When reheating, use a food thermometer to ensure that your quinoa is reheated to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Why 165 degrees? This temperature is high enough to kill any new bacteria that had the chance to grow while the quinoa cooled or while it was in the refrigerator, although it won’t do much for the more heat-resistant bacteria we discussed above.
Contrary to popular belief, you can reheat quinoa more than once3 as long as it is reheated to 165 degrees Fahrenheit each time. Be sure that the tip of your food thermometer is inserted in the middle of your quinoa, not at the surface or touching the pan or bowl. This will give you the most accurate results.
However, since certain bacteria found in quinoa are resistant to heat, it’s best to only reheat the amount you plan to eat in one sitting and to throw out any quinoa left in the refrigerator for more than two days.
Best ways to reheat cooked quinoa
There are a few different ways to reheat quinoa:
The microwave is the best option when you need to reheat leftovers quickly (and no worries, it won’t zap the nutrition out of your food). It’s the best way to reheat quinoa without drying it out.
- Place quinoa in a microwave-safe bowl or plate, depending on what works best for the dish.
- Cover with a damp paper towel to keep the quinoa moist.
- Microwave on high for 1-2 minutes or until quinoa is steaming. The timing will depend on how much quinoa you’re microwaving at one time.
- Insert the tip of a food thermometer into the middle of your quinoa, making sure not to touch the plate. It should read at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If not, keep microwaving for 15-30 second increments until hot enough.
The stovetop will take longer than the microwave and may crisp your quinoa a little, but it’s the next best option if you don’t have a microwave.
- Add quinoa to a non-stick skillet.
- Heat quinoa over medium heat for about 5 minutes, possibly longer if you’re heating a lot of quinoa at once.
- Insert the tip of a food thermometer into the middle of your quinoa, trying your best not to touch the skillet. It should read at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Reheating quinoa in the oven isn’t the most efficient option but will do the trick.
- Preheat to 350°F.
- Spread quinoa evenly on a baking sheet.
- Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the middle of the quinoa reaches at least 165°F when tested with a food thermometer. You can scrape the quinoa together in a pile to make it easier to measure the temperature. Avoid touching the thermometer to the baking sheet.
- Try to avoid overbaking as this will dry out your quinoa.
Quinoa is a nutritious, versatile whole grain that can be safely reheated as long as its internal temperature reaches at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. This will kill most bacteria.
Keep in mind, however, that quinoa and other grains contain some strains of heat-resistant bacteria that survive even when cooked, so it’s best to finish leftover quinoa within a few days.
Can quinoa be reheated the next day?
Yes, quinoa can be reheated the next day. It’s best to reheat it to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit in order to kill as much bacteria as possible and to finish leftovers within a few days.
How long is leftover quinoa good for?
On the conservative side, leftover quinoa lasts for about 3-5 days if cooled within 2 hours and stored below 40°F in the refrigerator. Frozen quinoa will around 8 months or so, but keep in mind that the quality and texture will slowly degrade the longer it’s frozen.
Is leftover quinoa safe?
Leftover quinoa is safe to eat within about 3-5 days if cooled within 2 hours and stored below 40°F in the refrigerator. If you’re eating it cold, it’s particularly important to finish it as soon as possible. Don’t eat quinoa that smells weird or looks off.
The scientific information in this article was accurate at the time of publishing but may change over time as new research becomes available.
- FDA. Water activity (aw) in foods. https://www.fda.gov/inspections-compliance-enforcement-and-criminal-investigations/inspection-technical-guides/water-activity-aw-foods. Accessed 9/6/23.
- Canaviri Paz P, Janny RJ, Håkansson Å. Safeguarding of quinoa beverage production by fermentation with Lactobacillus plantarum DSM 9843. Int J Food Microbiol. 2020;324:108630. doi:10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2020.108630
- USDA. How many times can I reheat foods? AskUSDA website. https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/How-many-times-can-I-reheat-foods. Accessed 9/6/23.