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Can You Put Unopened Cans in the Fridge?

Can You Put Unopened Cans in the Fridge? Canning as a food preservation technique was invented by a French chef and confectioner by the name of Nicolas Appert. 

Also known as the “Father of Canning”, (and maybe to that effect, the food science hero of your average hipster who likes storing, fermenting, and consuming food out of their hip mason jars), he was the one who discovered that heat-treating and storing food in tightly sealed containers would preserve it for later consumption.

Responding to the need of his country to preserve food for military use, he did extensive food research that lasted for several years. 

His studies eventually lead him to discover that food that’s been heated to a certain temperature kills bacteria that may hasten food spoilage, and if this food was sealed in a container that does not allow air (and therefore other microorganisms) to come in, it will last for a longer period of time. 

Even with the advent of refrigeration and freezing, canning remains to be one of the most important food preservation methods that we have today. 

If canning preserves food and refrigeration and freezing preserves food as well, does it follow that I can put my unopened can of tuna in the fridge so I can keep it for longer? Is it advisable to put unopened cans of food in the fridge?

Can You Put Unopened Cans in the Fridge?

You can put unopened cans of food in the fridge for a short period of time but besides it being unnecessary, it can cause moisture and rust to build up and compromise the quality of the food. Extreme changes in temperature may also cause pressure on canned food and compromise its safety. Unless specified by the manufacturer, keeping canned food at room temperature below 85 °F (between 50-70°F is ideal), is the safest thing to do. 

Can You Put an Unopened Can in the Fridge?
Can You Put an Unopened Can in the Fridge?

How Does Canning Work?

Canning is basically heating up food to a temperature that kills bacteria that causes food to spoil and then sealing it in a container so that no new bacteria can come in. The sterile environment preserves the food for a very long time.

Once opened, bacteria can come in and cause food spoilage, which is why we commonly see notes like: “refrigerate after opening” or we are advised to consume the contents within a certain number of days after opening.

Canning is not just limited to cans. It may refer to any container that you can sterilize and properly seal to keep air out to preserve food, like glass jars.

Home canning has always been a popular way to preserve food, and when done correctly, with the right method and following safety standards, can allow you to enjoy fresh produce and other foods for a long, long time.

Green beans, for example, typically do not have a long shelf life. But when you can them, you can safely enjoy them for months to come. Check out “How To Can Green Beans The Old Fashioned Way – Is It Easy?” on the site.

Can I Put my Unopened Can of Food in the Fridge?

You can but it is unnecessary. Canned food is designed specifically for storing food at room temperature so unless you are chilling the contents on purpose, it is best to save the fridge space for something else that’s more perishable.

Refrigerating canned food for a short period of time is unlikely to cause any real issues to the quality and safety of the food, however, it will defeat the purpose of buying canned food to begin with. 

Subjecting canned food to extreme changes in temperature, though, whether too hot or too cold, even for a short period of time, may potentially compromise its safety. Also, when metal is in a moist environment, it may rust and compromise the quality of your canned food.

Unless specified by the manufacturer, like for certain types of seafood, keeping canned food at room temperature is the safest thing to do. The USDA recommends storing at temperatures below 85 °F  (between 50-70°F is ideal), but not freezing.

You can refrigerate canned food but precious fridge space is best used for more perishable food. Canned food is made to be shelf stable at room temperature.
You can refrigerate canned food but precious fridge space is best used for more perishable food. Canned food is made to be shelf stable at room temperature.

How to Store Canned Food

1. Proper storage area

Store canned food in a cool, dry place, preferably below 85 °F.

2. No extreme temperatures

Do not subject canned goods to extreme changes in temperature such as freezing or extreme heating as it can be dangerous. Extreme temperature changes disturb the balance and sterile environment created in canning the food and may cause it to explode.

3. Storing in the refrigerator is possible for a short period of time, but not necessary

It is safe to store canned food in the fridge, but it is unnecessary. Except for certain seafood or fruits in jars, where the manufacturer will specifically indicate to keep it refrigerated, it is best to store canned goods at room temperature.  

Sometimes we may want to chill our canned fruit or canned milk so we can use it in recipes and opt to refrigerate them for a short period of time. This is unlikely to cause any issues. 

Over time though, and if done for a longer period of time, it may cause unnecessary moisture with the metal used for the canned food and make it vulnerable to food safety issues. 

Unless necessary for recipes, and only if it’s for a short period of time, canned goods are best stored at room temperature. 

4. Make sure to check your pantry regularly and use the expiring canned goods first

Canned goods will be safe to use for some time after their best-by date but ideally, we would want to consume them when they are at their best quality as indicated by their best before date. 

To prevent being in this pickle, make sure to constantly check what’s in your pantry to make sure those cans whose expiration dates are up first will be consumed first.  

5. Check for dents, bubbling, or leaking

If you notice any big dents or bubbling or bloating of the can, throw it away. It likely means that some bacteria have thrived in your canned good, and they won’t be safe to consume.

A particular type of bacteria that we are watching out for that tends to be an issue with canned food is the bacteria that causes botulism. 

Botulism is an uncommon but very serious condition caused by toxins produced by bacteria that affect the body’s nerves, causing paralysis, difficulty in breathing, and even death.

Because the bacteria that causes botulism thrives in anaerobic environments – or environments with low or no oxygen- canned foods are especially vulnerable. 

That is why it is especially important to follow proper safety and storage procedures when home-canning, and when handling commercially produced canned goods.

Always check your canned food for dents, leaks and bloating. If you see any of this, it's best to throw it away.
Always check your canned food for dents, leaks and bubbling. If you see any of this, it’s best to throw it away.

How Long Does Canned Food Last?

According to the USDA, as long as the can or container is not damaged in any way, canned food will last a really long time, with some types of food lasting indefinitely.

The quality, taste, and texture might deteriorate over time, but they will be generally safe to eat. Foods with high-acid content like canned tomatoes and other fruits will have a shorter shelf life compared to low acid foods like meat.

This means that should something like a zombie apocalypse happen and you are forced to live underground in a bunker, your canned tuna and canned beans may very well keep you alive for a long time.

Canning food is a method of food preservation that has allowed us to extend the lifespan of normally perishable foods for several years. It was invented in the 1800s.
Canning food is a method of food preservation that has allowed us to extend the lifespan of normally perishable foods for several years. It was invented in the 1800s.

Is Canned Food Safe to Consume?

Canned food is safe to consume and, in many ways, retains a lot of the nutrients found in fresh food.

They may, however, contain other ingredients that may not be ideal if consumed in big amounts, like excess sodium, sugar, and other preservatives that are added to make the food last longer. It is important to exercise our best judgment when choosing fresh vs canned.

In general, though, it is safe and at times more ideal to purchase canned fruits and vegetables compared to fresh ones, depending also on what we are using them for and the availability of fresh where we live. 

Just make sure, though, to check the ingredients list, and check that the ingredients are as few as possible to make sure you are buying food that’s not too high in sodium or too laden with preservatives. 

It is also important to always ensure you are buying cans with no damage so you do not unnecessarily endanger yourself from potentially life-threatening food-borne illnesses.

What Risks Are Associated with Eating Canned Food?

 1. Added Sodium, Sugar, and Preservatives

As part of the canning process and to make food last longer, canned goods often add a lot of salt, sugar, and other preservatives to ensure that the food will be preserved and will last a long time. 

Consuming too much sodium and sugar can lead to a host of health problems like high blood pressure and diabetes and increases the risk of us developing other illnesses as well. 

It is important to choose canned food that does not have a long list of ingredients, especially those you can’t pronounce, and to use our best judgment in managing our intake.

2. Chemicals in the Can

The standards for the materials used in the canning process have changed dramatically over the years and are considered much safer now than how it was before, however the risks are still there. BPA is a chemical used in manufacturing and in many food containers and is associated with increased cancer risk.

3. Botulism

The bacteria that cause botulism, Clostridium botulinum, thrive in a low oxygen environment and canned food is especially prone to this. When home canning, make sure to always follow safe handling and processing procedures. The article “Can I Leave Jars In A Pressure Canner Overnight – The Truth!” helps shed light on why proper use of canning equipment is of utmost importance.

When buying commercially canned food, make sure to always be mindful of unusual dents, and bubbling or leaks in your canned food. Also, never buy anything that has broken seals or anything whose packaging has been tampered with.

Canned food is especially prone to the bacteria that causes Botulism, as it thrives in low or no oxygen environments such as those in canned food. It is important to follow safe processing and handling procedures to avoid bacterial
Canned food is especially prone to the bacteria that causes Botulism, as it thrives in low or no oxygen environments such as those in canned food. It is important to follow safe processing and handling procedures to avoid bacterial growth.

How to Know if Canned Food Has Gone Bad

Canned food is bad and best to toss in the bin if you see any of the following signs:

  • The can is dented, swollen, damaged, or leaking.
  • There is foam or bubbling when you open the can.
  • The food is discolored, smells bad and there is mold.

This means that bacteria were able to proliferate in your canned food and have compromised its quality despite all the safety measures. It is extremely dangerous to consume, and you should get rid of it.

Remember, when you are unsure, your best bet is to throw it out. It is not worth risking a life-threatening food-borne illness just to save a few bucks or just because it is inconvenient to get a new one. 

Conclusion to Can You Put Unopened Cans in the Fridge?

You can put unopened cans of food in the fridge with no harm done for a short period of time, but ultimately it is not recommended. Save for a few types of food where the manufacturer will indicate that it is best stored in the fridge, it is best to keep canned food in a cool, dry place in the pantry. 

Not only will they be safer, but you will have more fridge space for other perishable food that may require them.

Frequently Asked Questions Related To Can you Put Unopened Cans in the Fridge?

Should I Refrigerate Unopened Canned Food?

You can refrigerate but it is unnecessary unless explicitly stated in the can or jar. Canned goods are specifically produced to be shelf-stable at room temperature.

Should I Refrigerate Canned Food That Has Been Opened?

You can refrigerate but if it is in a tin or metal can, it is best to transfer it to a glass jar or container.

Is It Safe to Consume Canned Food?

It is safe to consume canned food as long for as long as proper storage and handling guidelines have been followed.  Canned food, however, has its disadvantages in that it may contain too much salt and sugar, as well as preservatives, which are linked to a variety of health issues.  It is best to use sound judgment in how much we are consuming them.