Is canned salmon safe to eat uncooked?

Canned salmon is a popular pantry staple that offers the convenience of having fish on hand for quick meals or snacks. While fresh salmon should always be cooked prior to eating, some people wonder if it’s safe to eat canned salmon right out of the can without cooking it first. There are a few factors to consider when determining if uncooked canned salmon is safe to consume.

How canned salmon is processed

During the commercial canning process, salmon is cooked at high temperatures reaching at least 240-250°F (115-121°C) for a certain amount of time to kill any potential pathogens like bacteria, viruses or parasites that could cause foodborne illness. This process ensures that any harmful microorganisms are destroyed, making canned salmon shelf-stable and safe to eat without further cooking.

According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the exact time and temperature combinations vary between canneries, but all approved processes use high enough heat over a long enough duration to achieve commercial sterility.

FSIS conducts frequent inspections and oversight at salmon canneries to verify that the processing standards are adequate. Samples of finished canned salmon products are routinely tested to confirm they meet requirements for commercial sterility.

Risk of pathogens

Properly processed canned salmon has been heated to temperatures sufficient to destroy any dangerous bacteria like Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium botulinum and viruses. The level of pathogens in canned salmon is required to be below detectable limits.

Parasites like worms are killed during the canning process as well. Saltwater fish like salmon are generally considered low risk for parasites compared to freshwater fish. Freezing raw salmon prior to canning also helps safeguard against any parasite concerns.


One pathogen that receives a lot of attention in the context of canned goods is Clostridium botulinum, which causes botulism. This harmful bacterium can produce a nerve toxin that causes paralysis and is fatal in high doses. Botulism is very rare nowadays due to strict processing standards for canning, but the seriousness of the illness means it is still important to understand the risks.

C. botulinum is unable to grow in the presence of oxygen. The commercial hot fill canning process uses specialized equipment to fill cans with hot salmon and broth, seal the cans while still hot, and prevent recontamination. This eliminates oxygen from the can, preventing the growth of C. botulinum and inactivating any existing bacteria and spores.

As long as the can itself remains intact, undamaged and properly sealed, there is no risk of botulism from canned salmon products.

Histamine poisoning

One risk specific to canned fish like salmon is histamine poisoning, also known as scombroid poisoning. This is caused by excessive levels of histamine and similar compounds produced by bacteria that may grow if fish is not properly refrigerated at cool temperatures prior to canning.

Reputable canned salmon producers monitor fish temperature closely before and during processing to prevent hazardous histamine levels. The FDA regulates how much histamine is allowed in canned fish, and any products exceeding those limits are prohibited from being sold.

Shelf life and spoilage

Commercially canned salmon has a shelf life of at least 2-5 years if the can remains in good condition. Over time, the quality degrades but the product remains safe to eat.

Signs that canned salmon has spoiled and may not be safe to eat include:

  • Bulging or leaking can
  • Corrosion, rust or damage to the can
  • Dents along the seams or sharp edges
  • Off odors, mushy texture or white crystal deposits on the salmon

As long as the can is not damaged in any way, commercially canned salmon does not need to be refrigerated or heated before eating. However, chilled or warmed salmon may taste better depending on personal preference.

Once opened, canned salmon should be eaten within 3-4 days and refrigerated to prevent bacterial growth. Leftovers should also be heated thoroughly before eating again.

Proper storage

To maximize the shelf life of canned salmon:

  • Store unopened cans in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.
  • Avoid areas with temperature extremes or humidity.
  • Store cans with labels facing up to prevent corrosion from condensed moisture.
  • Separate or discard any cans that are leaking, rusted, bulging or badly dented.
  • Consume canned salmon within 2-5 years for best flavor and texture.
  • Refrigerate opened canned salmon and use within 3-4 days.

Benefits of canned salmon

Canned salmon provides similar nutrition as fresh salmon in a more convenient shelf-stable form. The canning process typically retains most of the protein, omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients originally found in salmon. It’s an affordable, healthy alternative to fresh salmon that has a long shelf life.

Some key benefits of canned salmon include:

  • High in protein and low in saturated fat
  • Rich in omega-3s EPA and DHA
  • Good source of vitamins and minerals like B12, niacin, selenium
  • Contains calcium in edible bones of some varieties like pink salmon
  • No prep or cooking required
  • Long shelf life when unopened
  • Versatile ingredient for salads, sandwiches, pasta dishes

Risks for certain groups

While properly processed canned salmon is safe for most healthy adults, there are some concerns for higher risk groups including:

Pregnant women

Pregnant women are advised to avoid raw seafood due to the risk of parasites and pathogens that could cause foodborne illness. However, commercially canned salmon is safe for pregnant women since the high heat processing destroys any parasites or bacteria present.

Some cans may be lined with BPA in the coating. BPA is an endocrine disrupting chemical that early studies showed could potentially impact the brain and behavior in developing fetuses and infants. However, major canned food manufacturers now use BPA-free liners.

To be safe, pregnant women should look for cans clearly labeled as BPA-free or eat canned salmon no more than once a week as recommended by the FDA.


Canned salmon can be a choking hazard and is not recommended for babies under 1 year old. The bones in some varieties of canned salmon also make it inappropriate for infants.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends introducing seafood like canned salmon to infants only after they can chew foods well without choking, around age 4-6 months at the earliest. Introduce just a few flakes and gradually increase to avoid reactions.

Immunocompromised individuals

People with weaker immune systems due to medical conditions like HIV/AIDS, cancer treatment or immunosuppressant medications have a higher chance of contracting foodborne illness. To minimize risk, they should take extra precautions like:

  • Avoiding raw or undercooked seafood
  • Cooking canned salmon thoroughly to steaming hot before eating
  • Keeping canned salmon refrigerated once opened and consuming promptly

However, properly processed canned salmon is still considered a low risk product for immunocompromised people if handled safely.

Common safety questions

Is eating cold canned salmon safe?

Yes, commercially canned salmon is fully cooked during the canning process so there is no risk of illness from pathogens like bacteria or parasites. The salmon is safe to eat straight from the can without heating or cooking again.

Can canned salmon make you sick?

Properly processed and sealed canned salmon does not pose a food safety risk. Illness could occur if cans are damaged, rusted, bulging or contaminated after canning. As long as cans remain in good condition, the canned salmon inside should be safe.

Can canned salmon go bad before the expiration date?

It is very rare for sealed, unopened canned salmon to go bad before the stamped expiration or “best by” date on the can. However, cans that were damaged or stored improperly for long periods in hot, humid conditions may spoil or degrade sooner.

How do you know if canned salmon is still good?

Check for visible rusting, leaking, bulging or badly misshapen cans. Popping the lid and checking for off odors, sliminess or discoloration can also identify spoiled salmon. Safe canned salmon has a firm texture and pink to light orange color.

Can you eat canned salmon that floats?

Salmon that floats in the can may indicate spoilage due to gas production. It’s best to discard floating canned salmon to be safe. However, floating doesn’t necessarily mean the salmon is unsafe if the can is otherwise in good condition and has no off odors.


In conclusion, canned salmon that is commercially processed according to food safety regulations is safe to consume without further cooking. The high heat canning methods use temperatures sufficient to kill any pathogens present in salmon to make shelf-stable products.

Consuming canned salmon comes with several health benefits thanks to the high quality protein, omega-3s and various vitamins and minerals salmon provides. However, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems should take some additional precautions due to higher susceptibility to foodborne illnesses.

As long as canned salmon is properly stored in cool, dry conditions and consumed before the expiration date, it can be safely enjoyed straight from the can without cooking. Take care to inspect cans carefully and discard any that appear damaged, leaking or spoiled.

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