How long will tuna last in a can?

Canned tuna can last for quite a long time if stored properly. The shelf life of canned tuna depends on a variety of factors, such as the best by date, the canning process, and how it is stored after opening. With proper storage, canned tuna can last for years past the best by date.

Quick answers

– Unopened canned tuna can last 2-5 years past the best by date if stored in a cool, dry place.

– Once opened, canned tuna will last 3-5 days when refrigerated.

– Properly frozen, opened canned tuna can last 2-3 months.

– Look for signs of spoilage like color changes, odor, sliminess, or bulging cans before eating canned tuna.

– Discard canned tuna past expiration or if you suspect it has spoiled.

How long does unopened canned tuna last?

An unopened can of tuna has a notably long shelf life compared to other canned goods. This is due to the canning process which involves cooking the fish to high temperatures that kill bacteria and pathogens, as well as sealing it in an airtight can to prevent new contaminants from getting in.

The shelf life of unopened canned tuna depends on several factors:

  • Type of tuna – White/Albacore tuna tends to keep longer than light tuna.
  • Best by date – This is usually 2-5 years from the packaging date.
  • Storage conditions – Canned tuna lasts longer when stored in a cool, dry pantry away from direct heat or sunlight.
  • Packaging – Dented or damaged cans allow bacteria to enter so tuna has a shorter shelf life.
  • Additives – Salt, vegetable broth, water, and oil help preserve canned tuna.

As a general rule, unopened canned tuna is good for:

Storage Time Room Temperature (75°F)
1-2 years 3-5 years

Canned tuna can last for years past the “best by” date stamped on the can, but quality may start to decline after the 2-5 year mark resulting in changes to color, flavor, or texture.

How to tell if unopened canned tuna is bad?

Check for these signs that indicate canned tuna may be spoiled before opening it:

  • Bulging can – This indicates gases from bacterial growth inside, do not eat.
  • Damaged can – Dents, rust, or cracks allow air and bacteria to contaminate tuna.
  • Expired date – Tuna stored for longer than 2-5 years may be degraded in quality.
  • Discoloration – Look for brown spots or white crystals on the tuna, a sign of oxidation.
  • Strong odor – An unpleasant or sulfurous smell when you open the can means it’s time to toss.

If the canned tuna shows no signs of spoilage, it should be safe for consumption. Use your sense of smell and sight to check for any off odors, colors, or textures after opening the can to evaluate whether the contents are edible.

How to store unopened canned tuna

To get the longest shelf life out of canned tuna before opening:

  • Keep it cool – Store unopened cans in a cool, dry place below 75°F like a pantry or cupboard. High heat can accelerate deterioration.
  • Avoid freezing – Freezing can rupture the can and expose tuna to bacteria once thawed.
  • Store in a dark place – Keep tuna away from direct sunlight which causes color changes and oxidation.
  • Keep dry – Damp conditions breed mold and bacteria that can enter through any seam in the can.
  • Check the can – Make sure cans are not heavily dented, rusted, or swollen, which signals spoilage.

With proper storage, unopened canned tuna stays fresh and shelf-stable for years, even past the “best by” date on the can. Keep the can intact and in a cool, dry place until ready to use.

How long does opened canned tuna last?

Once you open a can of tuna, oxygen is introduced and the shelf life is reduced to just a few days. This is because exposure to air allows bacteria and mold to start growing that can cause spoilage or foodborne illness.

Here’s how long opened canned tuna will last:

  • Refrigerator – 3 to 5 days
  • Freezer – 2 to 3 months

To maximize freshness after opening, transfer tuna to an airtight container and store it immersed in the liquid from the can. This prevents air exposure and keeps it moist.


Refrigerating opened canned tuna will keep it safe for consumption for 3 to 5 days. Keep the tuna submerged in the liquid it was packed in and store it towards the back of the fridge, away from the door.

Some discoloration and dryness may start to develop by day 5, even when refrigerated. When stored for longer than 5 days, tuna may take on a grayish color, dry out, or start smelling unpleasant, indicating it has spoiled.


For longer storage, opened canned tuna can be frozen for 2 to 3 months. To freeze, transfer the tuna and liquid into an airtight container or plastic freezer bag. Flatten the bag to remove excess air.

Portioning the tuna into smaller containers helps avoid waste since you can thaw only what you need. Frozen tuna will keep longer at 0°F or below. Defrost tuna overnight in the fridge before using.

Frozen tuna may develop ice crystals and become drier in texture over time but will remain safe to eat within 2-3 months. Discard any tuna that has been frozen for longer.

How to tell if opened canned tuna is bad?

Check opened canned tuna for these signs of spoilage before eating:

  • Sliminess or stickiness
  • Off odors like sour, sulfurous, or ammonia smells
  • Change in color to gray, yellow, or brown
  • Dry, shriveled texture
  • Mold growth, white or black spots

Tuna that exhibits any foul odors, textures, or visible mold should be thrown out. Over time, the proteins in tuna break down and the high moisture content makes it prone to bacterial growth when exposed to air.

Trust your senses – if it smells or looks bad, do not risk eating it. Stick to the recommended 3-5 day limit after opening. When in doubt, throw it out.

Tips for eating canned tuna safely

Here are some tips for handling and serving canned tuna to reduce the risk of foodborne illness:

  • Wash the can lid before opening.
  • Check the key or pop top to make sure it is sealed properly.
  • Transfer tuna to a clean airtight container, not the can.
  • Keep tuna chilled at 40°F or below until ready to eat.
  • Rinse tuna with cold water before adding mayo or salad dressing.
  • Cook tuna thoroughly to 165°F when making casseroles or tuna melts.
  • Don’t let tuna or dishes made with it sit out for over 2 hours.
  • Avoid cross contamination by washing hands, counters, and utensils after use.
  • Use opened tuna within 3-5 days and don’t eat if spoiled.

Being mindful of food safety practices helps prevent bacteria on the can or tuna from spreading and causing illness. If concerned about canned tuna freshness, it’s always best to throw it out within the recommended timeframe.

How long does canned tuna last in the fridge once opened?

Canned tuna that has been continuously refrigerated will keep for 3 to 5 days after opening. To maximize freshness, store it in an airtight container and keep the tuna submerged in the packing liquid. This helps prevent air exposure which can accelerate spoilage.

Signs canned tuna has gone bad

Check refrigerated tuna for the following signs it has spoiled:

  • Slimy texture or mucus-like discharge
  • Fishy, sour, or ammonia odor
  • Discoloration – gray, brown, or yellowish colors
  • Dry, flaky, or chalky appearance

Tuna that exhibits an off smell, texture, or appearance should be discarded after the 3-5 day opened shelf life. The nutrients in tuna also begin to break down due to moisture loss and oxidation.

How to store opened canned tuna in the fridge

To help canned tuna last the full 3-5 days refrigerated, follow these storage tips:

  • Transfer tuna to an airtight glass or plastic container, not the original can.
  • Completely cover tuna with the liquid it was packed in.
  • Put the container on a shelf towards the back of the fridge, away from the door.
  • Keep fridge temperature at or below 40°F.
  • Only open the container when ready to use to limit air exposure.

With proper refrigeration and storage methods, you can safely enjoy canned tuna for 3-5 days once opened. Discard any tuna that looks or smells off after this timeframe.

How long is tuna good for after opening the can?

Once opened, canned tuna will stay fresh and safe to eat for 3 to 5 days when stored in the refrigerator. The shelf life is shortened because exposing tuna to air allows bacteria and mold to grow.

Here are some guidelines for maximum freshness:

  • Keep tuna stored in the liquid from the can. This prevents oxidation.
  • Put tuna in an airtight container and refrigerate at 40°F or below.
  • Use tuna within 3 days for peak quality and flavor.
  • Discard any tuna that looks or smells bad after 5 days.
  • Freeze tuna for longer storage up to 2-3 months.

Refrigerating opened canned tuna is the best way to retain moisture, flavor, and texture. Signs tuna has spoiled include an unpleasant odor, slimy texture, or discolored flesh. Adhering to the 3-5 day limit prevents foodborne illness.

What happens if you eat expired canned tuna?

Consuming expired canned tuna comes with health risks due to foodborne bacteria that can grow over time. However, with tuna canned and stored properly, eating it past the best by date may not always lead to illness.

Here’s what to know:

  • Expired canned tuna may cause foodborne illness if pathogens are present. Salmonella, Staph aureus, Listeria, and botulism toxin are potential risks.
  • Canned tuna can start to degrade in quality past its expiry but may not pose a hazard if stored continuously in a cool, dry place.
  • Check for visible signs of spoilage like mold, sliminess, foul odor, or bulging cans. Never eat tuna from damaged or swollen cans.
  • Tuna that has been expired for over 2-5 years has greater chances of bacterial growth. Discard tuna stored for very long past its date.
  • Those more susceptible to illness should avoid expired canned tuna. This includes pregnant women, children, and people with weakened immune systems.

While not a guarantee of safety or quality, following the manufacturer’s best by date is recommended. Use your judgement – if expired tuna looks or smells off, err on the side of caution and throw it out.

Can you eat tuna after the expiration date?

It’s not recommended to eat canned tuna past the printed expiration date on the can. While tuna may still be safe to eat, its quality and freshness can decline over time. Expired tuna may have these issues:

  • Increased risk of foodborne illness if pathogens are present
  • Degraded flavor – bitterness, sourness, or lack of flavor
  • Discoloration or texture changes – dry, mushy, chalky
  • Nutrient loss – lower amounts of protein, healthy fats, and minerals

Here are some tips on evaluating and handling expired canned tuna:

  • Check for signs of spoilage like odor, mold, or can damage. Do not eat if any signs are present.
  • Store unopened tuna cans in a cool, dry place to prolong freshness as long as possible.
  • Consume tuna within 2 years of the best by date for optimal flavor and texture.
  • Avoid expired tuna if pregnant, elderly, or have a weakened immune system.
  • Cook expired tuna thoroughly to 165°F to reduce risk of illness from bacteria.

While it’s not illegal to eat tuna after the printed date, it’s generally better to discard it once expired as quality rapidly goes down. Use common sense – when in doubt, throw it out.

Does canned tuna go bad?

Yes, canned tuna can go bad and become unsafe to eat over time. Follow these guidelines for canned tuna freshness:


Properly sealed, unopened canned tuna has a shelf life of 2-5 years past the “best by” date printed on the can. Over time, the tuna’s quality slowly degrades but it is generally still safe to eat if the can has no dents, rust, or swelling. Discard heavily damaged cans.

After Opening

Once opened, canned tuna will last 3-5 days maximum in the refrigerator. After day 5, bacteria growth makes tuna susceptible to spoilage. Signs of spoiled tuna include sliminess, discoloration, odor, and dry texture.

After Freezing

Frozen tuna stays safe to eat for 2-3 months. Quality declines over time with discoloration and development of ice crystals.

Signs of Spoilage

Look for these signs canned tuna has gone bad:

– Strong, unpleasant fishy odor
– Slimy texture or mucus-like discharge
– Bulging or leaking can
– Visible mold
– Dry, flaky, or chalky appearance

Foodborne Illness

Eating spoiled tuna can lead to food poisoning or gut illness from bacteria like Salmonella, Staph aureus, Listeria, and Clostridium botulinum. Those more vulnerable to illness should discard tuna past expiration or showing any signs of spoilage.

In short – canned tuna stays fresh up to the printed best by date when stored properly, but will eventually spoil and become risky to eat over time without proper preservation.


Canned tuna can have an extended shelf life of 2-5 years for unopened cans, and 3-5 days for opened tuna kept refrigerated. This longevity is thanks to the canning process that seals out contaminants and the salt, oil, and broth that help prevent bacterial growth.

While canned tuna stays safe to eat for quite awhile with proper storage, its quality and flavor will start to degrade over time. Tuna that has been expired for too long or shows signs like foul odors, discoloration, dry texture, or sliminess should be discarded.

Following safe food handling practices like refrigerating after opening, avoiding damaged cans, and using tuna before its expiration date helps prevent foodborne illness. While not a guarantee against contamination, the “best by” date is a helpful freshness guide if the tuna has been stored correctly.

So check those cans carefully, follow the 3-5 day rule after opening, and enjoy canned tuna safely within its long shelf life range. Just remember – when in doubt, throw it out!

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