Canned chicken can be a quick and convenient way to add protein to meals and snacks. But once you open a can of chicken, how long does it actually last in the refrigerator?
As a food safety measure, it’s important to understand the recommended storage times for opened canned chicken and how to maximize its shelf life once a can has been opened. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know to safely store and determine when it’s time to toss out that opened can of chicken.
How Long Does Opened Canned Chicken Last in the Fridge?
When properly stored in the refrigerator, opened canned chicken will generally last 3-4 days. This timeframe is recommended by most food safety experts as the maximum duration for keeping opened canned chicken cold before discarding.
According to the USDA, an opened can of chicken remains fresh for 3-5 days when refrigerated at 40°F or below. Always be sure to transfer any leftover chicken from the can into an airtight container or sealed bag before refrigerating.
It’s also important to frequently check for signs of spoilage like foul odors, change in color or texture, and sliminess. If you detect any of these, it means the chicken has likely spoiled and should be discarded right away even if within the 3-5 day timeframe.
Why Refrigeration is Crucial
Refrigerating opened canned chicken is the best way to help prolong its safety and shelf life. The cold temperatures keep bacteria growth to a minimum and slow the natural degradation process.
Leaving an opened can of chicken out on the counter at room temperature for more than 2 hours is not recommended. Always transfer contents to the fridge in sealed containers immediately after opening and using.
Maximizing How Long Opened Canned Chicken Lasts
Proper storage is key to getting the longest usable life out of an opened can of chicken. Here are some tips to help maximize fridge life:
- Store chicken in airtight glass, plastic or stainless steel containers. This prevents fridge odors from seeping in and prevents food-borne pathogens.
- Divide chicken into smaller, shallow portions in containers or zip top bags. This allows for quicker chilling in the fridge.
- Freeze any leftovers you won’t use within 3-4 days. Frozen properly in airtight containers or bags, opened canned chicken will keep safely for 2-3 months in the freezer.
- Never keep opened canned chicken past 3-4 days in the fridge or 1 week maximum. Toss out any leftovers after this timeframe.
Monitoring for Visual and Smell Signs of Spoilage
It’s important to check opened canned chicken frequently as it nears the 3-4 day mark in the fridge. Look for any slime formation, change in color or sour odors which are indicators of spoilage bacteria. Discard immediately if you notice any of these red flags.
Why Proper Storage of Opened Canned Chicken Matters
Improper storage leads to quicker spoilage and can allow harmful bacteria to multiply rapidly. Here are some key reasons why following food safety guidelines for opened canned chicken storage matters:
- Keeps chicken refrigerated at the optimal 40°F temperature or below. This slows bacteria proliferation. Chicken left out too long enters the danger zone for rapid bacteria growth.
- Transfers chicken from the original can into sealed containers. Keeping chicken in the opened tin can allow the metal to react with the food and diminish shelf life.
- Storage in sealed airtight containers protects chicken from picking up other fridge odors and prevents moisture loss.
- Dividing into smaller portions in containers facilitates quick chilling. One large container slows down the refrigeration process.
Taking simple precautions to store opened canned chicken properly not only preserves quality but also guards against foodborne illnesses.
How Long Can Unopened Canned Chicken Be Stored?
Before opening a can of chicken, it’s helpful to understand just how long commercially canned chicken keeps its safety and nutritional value when still in the unopened, intact package.
Shelf Stable up to 2-5 Years
According to food safety experts, unopened commercially canned chicken has a shelf life of at least 2-5 years if stored properly in a cool, dry pantry. Always check the “best by” or “use by” date codes stamped on the can to get a general guideline for freshness.
However, canned chicken may still be good for a while beyond those dates as long as the can itself shows no exterior damage and has been stored in optimal conditions. The dates indicate estimated peak quality, not safety.
Look Out for Signs of Spoilage in Cans
Avoid any swollen, leaking, heavily dented or rusty cans when shopping. These are signs of potential bacteria growth and spoilage. Choose cans free of dents, rust or other damage for safety.
Past Date Canned Chicken May Still Be Safe If Can Intact
Canned chicken can usually safely be consumed 1-2 years past the “best by” date as long as the can itself has been stored in a cool, clean pantry and there are no signs of damage.
While the texture and flavor may degrade slightly over time, food safety should not be affected for several years if the intact can has been properly stored. Always inspect cans closely and discard any with contamination risks.
Is Canned Chicken Safe to Eat After Expiring?
For canned chicken that has been sitting unopened past its “best by” or “use by” date, it is generally still safe to consume as long as the can itself shows no outward damage.
Commercially canned chicken goes through a thermal processing method designed to make it shelf-stable and safe from bacteria, outside pathogens and spoilage when sealed in the can. As long as the seal remains intact, the contents are preserved.
However, quality can start to slowly decline after the date on the can passes so it’s best to try and use canned chicken within 1-2 years of the date code for optimal flavor and texture.
Very old cans that have been stored for more than 3-5 years may have some changes in color, consistency or taste profiles but should not pose any food safety hazards if the can outer seal and lining show no deterioration. Always inspect cans closely and never consume contents from cans that are leaking or seriously damaged.
For any canned chicken more than 5 years old, it may not be worth taking the risk. But as long as an unopened can has been properly stored and shows no damage, canned chicken within the 2-3 year range past its date is generally considered safe according to food scientists.
How to Tell If Opened Canned Chicken Has Spoiled
Once you’ve opened and refrigerated a can of chicken, it’s important to monitor it for any signs of spoilage during storage. Here are some common indicators that opened canned chicken has gone bad and must be discarded:
- Sliminess – Formation of slippery mucus-like substance on the chicken
- Off odors – Foul, sour, ammonia-like or acidic smells
- Change in color – Unnatural colors like green, blue, pink hues on chicken
- Change in texture – Chicken becomes mushy or extra soft
- Mold growth – Visible mold growing on chicken or inside container
- Gas pockets – Bubbles or pockets of gas in chicken flesh
Discard opened canned chicken immediately if you notice any of the above signs as it may contain harmful bacteria and should not be consumed.
Proper Identification of Spoiled Canned Chicken
It’s important to be vigilant when inspecting refrigerated opened canned chicken for any indicators it may have spoiled.
Look closely at the flesh and liquid for changes from the normal color and texture. Give the chicken a sniff test for foul odors every time the container is opened. Check for any slime, sheen, or mucus-like residue on the chicken.
Date labeling on containers can serve as a helpful guide for when to discard. Toss refrigerated opened canned chicken no later than 3-4 days after the container was first opened, even if there are no obvious signs of spoilage yet.
If the chicken gives off an unnatural or strong, unpleasant smell, this is one of the most telling signs it has spoiled and should be thrown out immediately.
Determining exactly when opened canned chicken has exceeded its safe shelf life depends on a few key factors like storage method and handling. But as a general rule of thumb, consume refrigerated opened canned chicken within 3-4 days and freeze any leftovers for longer term storage.
Monitor closely for changes in odor, color, texture and discard immediately if you detect foul smells or slime. Date labeling your storage containers helps track when opened chicken reaches the 3-4 day safety limit.
With proper refrigeration and handling, opened canned chicken can safely be enjoyed worry-free in quick meals for several days. Follow these food safety recommendations for getting the longest shelf life out of your canned chicken once opened.