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Jan 4, 2008 12:48 PM

What is the shelf life of canned tuna, chicken?

Found some cans of unknown vintage in the back of my cupboard. They did sport an older tag of the drugstore chain where I bought them. Wondering if they are still edible?

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  1. I think it's pretty darn long, but you can call the manufacturer and give them the numbers on the tins and they'll tell you if they are still okay or not. I've done that with mince meat.

    1. as long as the can isn't bulging, it's safe to open...and then you can just do the smell/slime test to see if it's edible.

      or, as ruth said, you can call the manufacturer and give them the serial numbers.

      11 Replies
      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

        If you follow your "logic" you can end up with bot poisoning....

        1. re: Pollo

          Actually, the bulging can is a sign of bacterial growth. And in a sealed can, that usually means botulinum; the little buggers excrete gas as well as botulin. If the can retains a vacuum (no bulging, and a slight sucking noise when first punctured), that's a pretty good sign that bacteria are not present, and the risk of botulism is minimal.

          1. re: alanbarnes

            Not can have bot toxin in perfectly "normally" appearing cans....

            1. re: Pollo

              Only if the can was improperly processed or its integrity has been compromised. Commercially canned foods are heated to 250F, which not only destroys c. bot spores but also neutralizes any toxins they might have produced. Sure, there's an opportunity for bacterial growth if the can rusts through or the seal fails, but wouldn't that also result in loss of vacuum?

              1. re: alanbarnes

                And in real life cans do get improperly processes and integrity gets routinely compromised and bot grows and people get sick.....

                1. re: Pollo

                  The possibility that commercially canned food has been improperly processed is so vanishingly small as to be irrelevant. Of all the millions of batches of food canned in the US in 2007, two--count 'em, two--were contaminated with c. bot. And 2007 was the worst year in decades.

                  As far as a compromised can goes, there's physical evidence--the loss of vacuum. So that risk can be easily avoided.

                  I'm not saying that there isn't some risk of contracting botulism from eating canned foods. But it's far less likely than getting struck by lightning. So why worry about it?

                  1. re: alanbarnes

                    Not true regarding your first point. Cases you mention are the only ones made public....there are many more that do not get reported for a variety of reasons. Also, not true the second point you make. You can get phisical contamination of a container by bot spores without the loss of vacuum.

                    1. re: Pollo

                      Your claim that there are "many cases" of commercial food canners causing botulism outbreaks by improperly processing food is interesting. Your claim that the incidents are kept secret from the public is more interesting still. What would be **really** interesting would be if you could provide some support for those claims.

                      As to physical contamination, botulin toxin is only present in food if it has been excreted by botulinum bacteria. And any time that botulinum excrete botulin, they also excretes gas. Which reduces the vacuum in a sealed container. It's physically impossible for botulinum to produce botulin without at least some loss of vacuum.

                      1. re: alanbarnes

                        To address your first point: if product is in physical posession of the processor then the information does not have to be released to the public....that's a fact. None of such information will be made public for obvious reasons but trust me when I tell you that such incidents are not infrequent. Underprocessing does occur at a rate much higher that you would think. To your second point: bot can produce toxin and make no or v. minimal changes to the level of vacuum so as to make the level of vacuum a v. poor guide as to the presence of toxin. The only way to definitively identify bot toxin in a container is to actually test for it. In many instances you will not recover viable bot organisms yet the toxin will be present. There is another bot "incident" that is "developing" as we speak so check out the FDA recall page for the latest news:

                        1. re: Pollo

                          But if the product never leaves the physical posession of the processor, you don't really need to worry about eating it unless you're dumpster-diving behind a processing plant, now do you?

                          Oh, and by the way--the incident you linked to is one of the two I mentioned before. But I have to admit that the info I posted was incorrect; I called it an "outbreak" when in fact NOBODY EVER GOT SICK. A few dozen cans of beans were recalled, end of story.

                          Of course, you're free to spend as much time and energy as you wish worrying about contracting botulism from commercially processed food. But me, I'll focus on bigger risks. Like hantavirus, shark attack, injury from falling fruit, alien abduction, stuff like that.

                          1. re: alanbarnes

                            That's not the point that no one got sick....the company was lucky. Point I'm making is that it does happen more often than people think. That "outbreak" will cost the company upwards of $20 mil if they are lucky and nothing more develops. Based on what I know about the food industy I worry more about bot an other "usual suspects" than any of the "real" treats you mention....

      2. Packed in *oil*, tuna has a longer shelf life than tuna packed in water (vegetable stock). I'd call the product manufacturer just to make sure. I did so recently for Hunt's diced tomatoes.
        I was told they had no idea what the codes meant from the lids of my cans (apparently they switched over to a new coding system of some kind). That surprised me a bit because I expected them to keep a history of such information.

        Anyhow, my guess is that the tuna will still be good even after three years.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Cheese Boy

          Wheather tuna is packed in oil or broth/water makes no difference on shelf life. Basically, such cans can be stable for 15+ years or even longer as long as the double seams hold. Anything high acid packed in cans such as sardines with tomato sauce is usually suspect after 3 years...acid will eat through the can coating and then things "happen".....

        2. Opened an old can of sauerkraut recently. Stunk up the whole kitchen.

          1. Just check the expiration date... :-}