Refried beans are a popular side dish in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine. They are made by mashing pinto beans and then frying them, usually in lard or vegetable oil. Refried beans are sold both canned and dried in packages. Canned refried beans provide a quick and convenient option for making dishes like burritos, nachos, tacos, and more. However, some people wonder if canned refried beans are safe to eat.
Are canned refried beans safe?
The short answer is yes, commercially canned refried beans are generally safe to eat. Reputable brands undergo a sterilization process that destroys harmful bacteria and toxins, allowing the canned beans to be stored at room temperature. As long as the can remains intact and undamaged, the contents inside should be safe to consume according to expiration dates printed on the label.
Canned refried beans are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure safety and quality standards are met. Commercial canners are required to follow strict protocols for processing, cleaning, and sterilizing cans as well as monitoring pH, salt, and water levels in food products.
Most major brands of canned refried beans contain only a few simple ingredients: cooked pinto beans, vegetable oil or lard, salt, and sometimes onions, garlic, jalapeño peppers, and cumin for flavor. The high heat used during the commercial sterilization process destroys any dangerous bacteria that could be present.
As an added safety measure, canned refried beans from reputable brands are often packaged in BPA-free cans to avoid potential health risks from that chemical leaching into food.
Are there any risks with canned refried beans?
While commercially canned refried beans are generally safe, there are a few potential risks to be aware of:
- Botulism – This life-threatening illness is caused by a toxin produced by the Clostridium botulinum bacteria. If spores of this bacteria survived the canning process, the toxin can form in low oxygen environments like sealed cans. However, botulism from canned goods is extremely rare today thanks to modern sterilization standards.
- Food spoilage – If a can has any punctures, rust, or swelling, it may indicate the presence of bacteria and unsafe refried beans. Cans that spurt liquid or foam when opened are also signs of spoilage.
- Recontamination – Even if canned refried beans are sterilized during processing, they can become recontaminated if handled improperly later on. It’s important to follow storage instructions and check for signs of damage before opening.
- Allergens – Canned refried beans may contain potential allergens like wheat, soy, milk, and shellfish depending on added ingredients. Those with food sensitivities need to read labels carefully.
As long as canned refried beans come from a reputable source, are not expired, and show no signs of damage or spoilage, they can be considered generally safe to eat. However, it’s always wise to follow basic food safety practices like inspecting packaging, washing hands before handling, and properly reheating after opening.
Do canned refried beans expire?
Yes, canned refried beans do eventually expire and can become unsafe to eat. The expiration date printed on the can indicates the last date by which the manufacturer recommends consuming the product for best quality and safety.
An unopened can of refried beans typically lasts about 1-2 years from the manufactured date before its quality starts to degrade. Over time, the beans can lose flavor, become discolored, and develop a mushier texture.
Once opened, canned refried beans last about 3-5 days refrigerated in an airtight container. The leftovers need to be promptly refrigerated because bacteria can grow quickly on the opened food.
Be sure to inspect canned refried beans for any signs of spoilage before eating, even if not expired. Look for:
- Bulging or dented cans
- Rust, leaks, cracks, or punctures in the can
- Mold, slimy texture, or strange odors when opened
If you see any of those warning signs or are uncertain about an older can past its expiration date, it’s safest to throw the refried beans away. Consuming spoiled canned foods can potentially cause foodborne illnesses.
How can you tell if opened canned refried beans are bad?
There are a few clear signs that opened canned refried beans have spoiled and should be discarded:
- Change in appearance – Mold, mushy or slimy texture, unnatural colors
- Strange smells – Sour, unpleasant, or ammonia-like odors
- Off tastes – Significant change in flavor, bitterness, very bland
- Gas or bubbling – Visible fizzing, hissing, or bubbling inside the can
- Discoloration – Unnatural colors like green, blue, black
- Dangerous toxins – Potential presence of botulinum toxin
Trust your senses – if opened canned refried beans look, smell or taste off in any way, err on the side of caution and throw them out. It’s not worth risking foodborne illness from eating spoiled beans.
How long do opened canned refried beans last in the fridge?
Properly stored, opened canned refried beans will generally stay safe to eat for 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator. Keep leftovers in an airtight container to prevent drying out. Some guidelines for refrigerating opened canned beans:
- Pint can – 3 to 4 days
- Quart can – 4 to 5 days
- #10 can – 5 to 7 days
Make sure to refrigerate beans within 2 hours of opening the can, since harmful bacteria can quickly multiply at room temperature. Only reheat the amount needed and refrigerate promptly again.
If refried beans develop an off smell, texture or appearance within those recommended timeframes, it’s best to discard the remainder. Their quality and safety decline over time in the fridge.
Can you freeze canned refried beans?
Yes, canned refried beans can be safely frozen for longer term storage. Freezing prevents the beans from spoiling for several months. Here are some tips for freezing canned refried beans:
- Store beans in airtight containers or resealable freezer bags.
- Exclude as much air as possible to prevent freezer burn.
- Label containers with contents and freeze-by date.
- Use within 2 to 3 months for best quality.
- Avoid repeated thawing and refreezing.
- Thaw in fridge overnight before using.
Properly frozen canned refried beans will maintain their taste and texture for a few months in the freezer before quality slowly declines. They may become mushier or develop more bland flavor over time while frozen.
How do you thaw frozen refried beans?
There are a few safe ways to thaw frozen canned refried beans:
- Refrigerator – Thaw beans overnight in the fridge. This is the slowest but safest method.
- Cold water – Place frozen beans in a sealed bag and submerge in cold tap water. Change water every 30 minutes until thawed.
- Microwave – Microwave beans on defrost setting based on amount, stirring occasionally.
- Stovetop – Cook frozen beans over low heat, stirring regularly until thawed and heated through.
Always cook thawed refried beans to 165°F or until hot and steaming before eating. Do not thaw beans at room temperature or in hot water, as bacteria can multiply quickly in the “danger zone” between 40-140°F.
Can you eat canned refried beans cold from the can?
It’s not recommended to eat canned refried beans directly from the can without reheating them first. Cold temperatures allow the growth of harmful bacteria like Clostridium botulinum, which can produce toxins that cause botulism.
Even though refried beans are commercially sterilized, the canning process is not perfect. Reheating canned beans destroys any bacteria that may be present to a safe level. Consuming beans straight from the can runs a higher risk of foodborne illness.
For optimal safety and quality, always transfer canned refried beans to a pan or microwave-safe dish and fully reheat to at least 165°F before eating.
Do you have to cook canned refried beans?
Yes, it’s important to fully cook canned refried beans before eating even though they are already cooked during the canning process. Simply heating them until steaming hot allows the beans to reach a safe internal temperature that destroys any potential bacteria present.
Here are some safe ways to cook canned refried beans:
- In a saucepan over medium heat on the stovetop, stirring occasionally until hot.
- In the microwave in a microwave-safe dish, reheating for 2-3 minutes until steaming.
- Stirred into dishes like burritos, nachos or tacos that will be fully cooked.
- In baked casseroles or dishes that are cooked to a safe internal temperature.
Bringing canned refried beans to 165°F as measured with a food thermometer is ideal. Their taste and texture also improve from a quick reheating.
Can you eat canned refried beans without cooking or heating?
It is not recommended to eat canned refried beans straight from the can without properly reheating them first. Even though canned beans are cooked and commercially sterilized, potentially dangerous spores can survive the process in rare cases.
Heating canned beans to steaming hot allows them to reach a high enough internal temperature (165°F) to destroy any hazardous bacteria or toxins that could be present. Consuming unheated beans runs a greater risk of foodborne illnesses.
For optimal safety and quality, always transfer the beans to a pan or microwave-safe container first. Heat thoroughly until steaming hot throughout before serving, especially if planning to eat the beans cold in a dip or salad later on.
Do canned refried beans need to be heated before eating?
Yes, it is highly recommended to fully heat canned refried beans to a safe serving temperature before eating, even if the beans will be served cold later on. Here’s why heating first is important:
- Destroys potential bacteria – Heating to 165°F kills any pathogens.
- Prevents foodborne illness – Greatly reduces risk of botulism and other illnesses.
- Improves taste – Beans absorb more flavor and soften with heating.
- Recommended safety practice – Following proper food handling guidelines.
Though inconvenient, taking the extra time to transfer canned beans to a pan and fully reheat before using is an essential food safety precaution. The short heating time is worth it to avoid the serious risks posed by botulism and other toxins if beans are consumed cold directly from the can.
Canned refried beans can be a convenient and healthy pantry staple when properly handled. Once opened, they should be either used immediately or promptly refrigerated and eaten within 3 to 5 days. Freezing is another long term option if the beans will not be used right away.
However, it is crucial to always heat canned refried beans thoroughly to a steaming hot temperature before eating, even if planning to serve them cold. This kills potentially dangerous bacteria and toxins that could otherwise survive the canning process in rare instances. Following safe food preparation and heating steps reduces the risks of foodborne illness from canned goods.