Tuna is a great source of protein, easy to prepare in a variety of ways, and a good source of daily omega-3s, so it’s no wonder it’s in pantries everywhere.
But what if a box is opened and then left out overnight? What would happen if fresh tuna was left in a grocery bag overnight?
Fresh or canned tuna that has been opened and allowed to sit overnight should not be eaten. The USDA places tuna firmly in the “danger zone” after two hours of resting in room temperature environments.
How can you identify if your tuna has gone bad if a little bit has been left out? what should you be looking for? What are the risks of eating tuna that has spoiled? Read on as we will cover all of these topics.
How long can tuna be left before it spoils?
Tuna comes in many different forms, so we’ll break it down here so it’s clear what type of tuna you’re interested in. There is fresh tuna: skipjack (the most common), albacore, yellow fin and bigeye; and there is canned tuna, albacore and chunky light.
Canned tuna of any variety that has not been opened can sit on your pantry shelf for years and still be safe to eat.
If you’re hoping to make a tuna salad and wondering about an unopened can you found on the back of the pantry shelf, chances are you bought it and brought it home at your security window. Bon Appetite.
If you opened the can of tuna and left it out, that’s an immediate game changer. Canned tuna that has been opened should not be eaten if it has been out of the refrigerator for more than two hours.
It should be noted here that it is important to pay attention to your surroundings. If it’s hotter than average, shorten this time frame and eat leftover tuna within an hour or store it in the refrigerator.
If tonight is homemade sushi night and you come back from the market with a fresh sushi-quality tuna steak that you forgot to put in the fridge, proceed with caution.
The USDA gives you two hours before throwing it away; but with raw fish you have to be careful and shorten that window if it’s hotter than average in the area where you let it sit.
As with most perishable foods, the general rule of thumb is to eat it right away or store it cold within two hours. As always, err on the side of caution.
How to tell if tuna has gone bad
The good news is that the tuna will be very honest with you and will let you know right away if it should be eaten or thrown away. There are three ways to get a good idea of the safety of your consumption: check the smell, the color and its packaging.
Because tuna is a pungent fish, just because it has an odor is not enough to tell if it has gone bad. The smell will be strong even though it’s good to eat, but it should be fresh and clean, either from the butcher or the box. If it smells unappetizing or makes you turn away when you smell it, it has gone bad.
When buying fresh or frozen tuna, pay attention to the color of the fillet. The fat content of different types of tuna determines how red or pink the meat is, and post-processing of frozen fillets uses methods to prevent the red and pink tones from turning an unappetizing brown.
If you notice browning around the bone of the tuna steak, be careful: this is a sign that it was not stored properly during the transport or storage process from the grocery store.
If there is any hint of dark brown, black, or green color in fresh OR canned tuna, discard immediately.
Finally, check the package for two important facts to see if your tuna is bad. First, look for the best before date on canned or frozen tuna. If you’re within a reasonable time of that date, you should be good to go.
Second, with canned tuna, look for bulges or openings in the seams of the can itself. If you find any abnormalities in the box (other than dents from shipping or dropping your pantry), throw the box away, as that’s a sign the tuna is bad and just not worth it.
Can Eating Bad Tuna Make You Sick?
Eating spoiled food of any kind can make you sick, and tuna is no exception. If you know you’ve been out longer than is safe, or take a chance on a dodgy can of tuna, you risk food poisoning.
Symptoms of food poisoning from spoiled fish can range from mild stomach upset to cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. The most extreme cases of these symptoms can lead to dehydration, which is a serious health problem for which you should see a doctor.
If you made a delicious tuna salad and forgot to put it in the fridge, it’s hard to resist the urge to eat the leftovers, we get it. But given the discomfort caused by the wrong diet, you better consider the consequences and play it safe.
How to store tuna?
Tuna salad can be a great meal for days to come, so be sure to package and store it properly so you can enjoy your leftovers in sandwiches or salads.
If you opened the can of tuna and sprinkled it with vinegar or mayonnaise and made your favorite tuna salad recipe, eat what you want, then put the rest in an airtight container or sealed bag and refrigerate.
Tuna salad can also be frozen if you think you won’t want leftovers for a day or two. Place everything in a zip lock bag or storage container (leaving some room for the freezing process to expand the food) and store in your freezer for up to five days.
If you opt for the frozen option but want to make thawing and serving easier, package leftover tuna salad into individual portions before freezing. Then take them out as needed and enjoy for up to five days.
If your eyes were bigger than your stomach for sushi night and you want to keep tuna fresh and raw for a salad tomorrow, make sure your fridge is set to 39F or below, wrap leftovers tightly in plastic wrap and a resealable bag or storage container and enjoy for up to two days.
Do not refreeze fresh, store-bought tuna because it was frozen for its original shipment and you do not want to refreeze the fish. Likewise, if you thawed your tuna at home, don’t refreeze it. Refrigeration is the way to go if you have fresh tuna leftover.
How long does canned tuna last at room temperature?
We all love having it on hand for quick lunches, protein-rich additions to salads, and kids’ meals, but how long can it sit on that pantry shelf and be really good to eat?
The tuna canning process isolates the fish from any potential bacterial growth and creates an environment for the food to remain safe on your shelf for approximately four years. The exception, of course, is if you see bulges or broken seams on the box; if so, throw it away.
Once the can is opened, it will only be safe to eat for about two hours if left at room temperature.
Since it is the canning process that preserves the meat, not the smoking, salting, or preserving of the fish itself, it will begin to grow harmful bacteria within two hours a day at medium heat. .
If it’s over 90F/32C, you shouldn’t keep the tuna out of the freezer for more than an hour and expect to eat it.
Whether it’s a tuna salad recipe passed down from a great-grandmother or an experiment in putting together a homemade sushi dinner, tuna can be a family and crowd pleaser. Make the most of that great food and your efforts by storing leftovers properly so you can enjoy them again the next day!
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