Can you eat canned refried beans without heating?

Quick Answer

Yes, you can safely eat canned refried beans without heating them first. Canned refried beans are shelf-stable and have been cooked and processed to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. However, some people prefer to heat them to enhance the flavor and texture.

Can You Eat Canned Beans Without Cooking?

Canned beans, including refried beans, are fully cooked and processed during the canning procedure. This involves:

  • Picking and cleaning the beans
  • Partially boiling the beans
  • Packing them into cans
  • Sealing the cans
  • Completely cooking the beans inside the can at 240–250°F

This high heat kills any bacteria that may be present and creates an airtight seal. The cans are then cooled quickly. This commercial sterilization process allows canned beans to be stored at room temperature for 1–5 years.

For this reason, canned beans can be eaten straight from the can without cooking them again. The USDA confirms canned beans are safe to eat without heating as long as the can is in good condition.

Are There Any Risks of Eating Unheated Canned Beans?

There are a few minor risks to consider:

  • Texture and flavor: Canned beans have a softer, mushier texture than beans you cook yourself. Heating them can make them more palatable.
  • Nutrient loss: Some water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C and B vitamins may degrade over time in canned foods stored at room temperature.
  • Higher sodium intake: Canned refried beans contain added salt as a preservative. Rinsing and heating them can help reduce the sodium content.

However, these risks are minor. As long as the can is not damaged in any way, it is perfectly safe to eat canned refried beans straight out of the can without warming them.

Tips for Eating Unheated Canned Refried Beans

Here are some tips for enjoying canned refried beans safely without heating them:

  • Check that the can is free of damage like dents, cracks, or bulging lids. Do not eat from damaged cans.
  • Clean the lid of the can before opening.
  • Use clean utensils and plates.
  • Drain and rinse the beans in a colander to remove some sodium.
  • Pair them with freshly made sides like guacamole, salsa, cheese, lettuce, etc. to improve flavor.
  • Add spices like cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder or hot sauce to boost the taste.
  • Mash them with a fork to improve texture.
  • Blend them into a bean dip for a smoother consistency.

Properly stored, unopened canned refried beans maintain top quality for 12-18 months, according to USDA guidelines.

Nutrition Facts of Canned Refried Beans

Here is the nutrition information for a 1⁄2 cup serving (126g) of canned fat-free refried beans (1):

Nutrient Amount
Calories 90
Protein 7g
Carbohydrates 16g
Fiber 7g
Sugars 1g
Fat 0g
Sodium 400mg
Calcium 100mg
Iron 2mg
Potassium 300mg

Canned refried beans are low in fat and high in plant-based protein, fiber, iron, potassium and magnesium. Rinsing them can reduce the sodium content.

Benefits of Canned Refried Beans

Some key benefits of canned refried beans include:

  • Convenience: Canned refried beans are ready to eat straight from the can. They don’t require soaking, boiling or any prep.
  • Long shelf life: Unopened cans last 1-5 years when stored properly. Once opened, they last 3-4 days in the fridge.
  • Cost: Canned beans tend to be cheaper than purchasing dry beans.
  • Accessibility: Canned beans can be found year-round in most grocery stores.
  • Nutritious: Refried beans provide fiber, plant-based protein, iron, potassium, magnesium and other nutrients.
  • Gluten-free and vegan: Canned refried beans make a handy plant-based protein for special diets when you check labels.

Canned bean varieties including refried, black, pinto, kidney and others provide an affordable, nutritious addition to meals and snacks.

Risks of Improperly Stored Canned Beans

Though canned refried beans don’t need to be cooked before eating, they do need to be stored properly to avoid potential health risks. Here are some key risks of improperly stored canned beans:

  • Can corrosion: Storing canned goods in damp conditions can corrode the cans and cause leakage, contamination and illness.
  • Weakened seams: Freezing and thawing canned goods can impact the structural integrity of the seams and allow bacteria inside.
  • Power failures: Long power outages can affect the safety of refrigerated canned foods due to temperature changes.
  • Rusty, dented or leaking cans: Damaged cans increase the risk of bacterial growth like botulism or other foodborne illness.
  • Food poisoning: Eating food from containers with damaged seams or containers that are bulging or leaking can allow bacteria like Clostridium botulinum to grow and cause botulism poisoning.

Always inspect canned goods carefully before eating. Do not eat from cans that are damaged, leaking or have broken seams. Even a small pinhole can allow dangerous bacteria inside.

Signs of Spoiled Canned Beans

Watch for these signs that canned beans have spoiled and should be discarded:

  • Bulging or swollen can
  • Leaking, bent or rusty can
  • Broken seals
  • Dents along sealed edges
  • Lid doesn’t seal properly or pops up when opened
  • Hissing sound when can is opened
  • Off odors, colors or appearance
  • Mold within the can
  • Slimy texture

Do not taste food from a can that shows any signs of spoilage. Botulism rarely produces noticeable odors or taste, yet can be deadly if ingested, even in tiny amounts.

How to Store Canned Beans

To safely store canned refried beans:

  • Keep canned goods in a cool, dry place between 50-70°F.
  • Avoid storing cans near heat sources like stoves, ovens or dishwashers.
  • Store cans in a pantry or cabinet rather than exposed on countertops.
  • Organize canned goods so you can clearly see expiration dates.
  • Ensure cans do not have dents, rust or damaged seams before storing.
  • Clean lids/rims thoroughly before storage.
  • Don’t freeze canned goods as this can compromise can integrity.
  • Refrigerate canned beans after opening and use within 3-4 days.

Proper storage keeps canned refried beans safe and optimal until the expiration date. Discard cans that are past expiration or show any signs of damage.

What Beans Are Used for Refried Beans?

Refried beans start out as whole pinto beans. Pintos are a brownish-pink medium-sized bean commonly used in Mexican cuisine. Other key facts about pinto beans (2):

  • They are the beans typically used to make refries and chili.
  • Pintos have a creamy texture and mild, earthy flavor when cooked.
  • The pinto bean is the national legume of Mexico.
  • Pintos contain high amounts of protein, dietary fiber and micronutrients like iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and B vitamins.
  • Compared to other beans, pintos have lower cooking times of around 2 hours.
  • When cooked, their reddish-brown speckled hulls turn a pinkish-beige color.

To make refried beans:

  1. Pinto beans are boiled until fully cooked and softened.
  2. The cooked beans are mashed into a paste.
  3. Bean paste is fried in oil, usually lard or vegetable oil, and mashed further.
  4. Onions, garlic and other flavorings are sometimes added when frying.

This frying evaporates more moisture from the bean paste and gives it the distinctive creamy, velvety texture of refried beans.

Do Refried Beans Have Lard?

Traditional homemade refried beans are made by frying the bean paste in lard (pork fat). Lard provides a rich, full flavor.

However, many commercial canned refried bean products use vegetable oil instead of lard to appeal to vegetarian and vegan consumers.

To identify which type of oil is used, check the ingredients list:

  • Lard: “lard” will be listed as an ingredient.
  • Vegetable oil: “vegetable oil” or “canola oil” will appear instead.
  • Fat-free: No oil or lard is used in fat-free versions.

Most major brands offer vegetarian/vegan canned refried beans fried in vegetable oil instead of lard. You can also make your own lard-free refried beans at home.

Common Ways to Enjoy Refried Beans

Refried beans are a versatile Mexican staple. Here are some delicious ways to serve canned refried beans:

  • Spread on tortillas, tostadas or tamales
  • Fill burritos and enchiladas
  • Top nachos, tacos and taco salads
  • Pair with rice and Latin dishes
  • Blend into dips like bean dip
  • Make egg breakfast tacos or burritos
  • Mix into quesadillas
  • Use in soups like tortilla soup
  • Make bean-based appetizers for events
  • Pair with freshly sliced veggies

Spice up canned refried beans with extras like shredded cheese, salsa, guacamole, chopped onion, cilantro, jalapeños, etc. The possibilities are endless!

Homemade vs. Store-Bought Refried Beans

Homemade Store-Bought (Canned)
Prep time 2+ hours to soak and cook beans Ready to eat instantly
Cooking method Stovetop Canning process
Ingredients Controlled Often contains preservatives
Flavor Mild bean flavor Often saltier taste
Texture Smoother Mushier
Cost Pennies per serving Higher cost per serving

Homemade allows better control over ingredients and flavor, but takes significantly more work. Canned beans offer quick, convenient refried beans year-round.

How to Make Your Own Refried Beans

To make easy homemade refried beans:


  • 1 pound dry pinto beans
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon oil (lard, vegetable, olive etc)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Rinse pinto beans, then soak in water overnight.
  2. Drain soaked beans and place in a pot. Add fresh water to cover beans by 2-3 inches.
  3. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook 1-2 hours until beans are very soft.
  4. Drain the beans, reserving about 1/2 cup of cooking liquid.
  5. Blend beans with 1/4 cup cooking liquid until smooth. Add more liquid as needed.
  6. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook 2-3 minutes until translucent.
  7. Add garlic and cook 1 minute until fragrant.
  8. Add blended bean paste. Mash and stir frequently until desired consistency is reached, about 3-5 minutes.
  9. Season with cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper.
  10. Adjust consistency with remaining bean liquid if needed.
  11. Serve warm with desired toppings and tortillas.

Refrigerate unused homemade refried beans up to one week. Enjoy delicious homemade taste and fully customizable ingredients and flavors!


Canned refried beans can be safely eaten straight from the can without heating them first. However, some people prefer warming them to enhance flavor and texture. Check for signs of can damage before eating unheated canned beans.

With an array of nutrients and a long shelf life, canned beans like refried are an affordable and convenient pantry staple. Make sure to store cans in a cool, dry place and refrigerate after opening. Homemade refried beans allow full control over ingredients and flavors.

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