How Long Can Tuna Sit Out?

by Charlie
Published: Last Updated on
How Long Can Tuna Sit Out

Have you ever ended up with a bowl of tuna sitting around that you aren’t sure what to do with? Whether this has come from a can or some fresh tuna that you’ve purchased but not yet used up, you may be wondering how to store it, how well it keeps, and what happens if it gets left on the counter.

How long can tuna sit out? Tuna should not be kept at room temperature for more than two hours, or an hour in hot conditions. If it isn’t refrigerated, it will quickly become a breeding ground for bacteria, and this could lead to food poisoning for anyone who consumes the tuna after this point.

What Happens If You Leave Tuna at Room Temperature?

If you leave tuna at room temperature for too long, bacteria will quickly start to spread throughout the flesh. Above 40 degrees F, the rate at which bacteria breed massively increases, and you’ll soon find that the fish is unsafe to eat.

If the temperature is above 90 degrees F, you only have around an hour to get the tuna into the fridge before it will become unsafe to eat. Warm temperatures prompt bacterial growth and will ruin the food very quickly.

Bacteria will still spread through the fish once it is in the fridge, but at a massively decreased rate. This means it will be safe to eat for significantly longer.

It is true that if you’re dealing with canned tuna, the salt it has been preserved in may help it to last for longer than two hours at room temperature, but this is not considered in line with food safety practices, and you should not risk it. Put canned tuna and fresh tuna straight into the fridge, and do not store them at room temperature.

If you have accidentally left fish at room temperature for more than two hours, you should throw it away promptly. It is unlikely to be safe to eat, and you shouldn’t take the risk.

How Should You Store Tuna?

You should place tuna in the fridge as soon as you have finished with it. It’s best to decant it from the can and into a sealable container. Reducing the airflow should minimize the bacterial spread, helping the fish to last for longer. It will also reduce the risk of cross contamination.

You can keep tuna in the fridge for a couple of days after it has been opened. Some people keep it for longer than this and find that it is still safe to eat, but you should be cautious; fish can harbor dangerous bacteria and you could end up hospitalized if you get severe food poisoning.

If you are going to eat tuna that is more than a couple of days old, you should inspect it thoroughly first. Make sure that the color is still good and it tastes okay. For most people, it is better to throw it away than to take the risk of contracting food poisoning.

Can You Freeze Tuna?

You can freeze tuna – both fresh tuna and tuna from a can – if you are not going to use it up within the correct window of time. To do so, place the tuna in an airtight container and make sure that it is properly sealed, as this will reduce the risk of freezer burn.

It’s a good idea to freeze the tuna in small portions so that you can just defrost what you need. Label and date the container and place it in the freezer. In general, tuna should be used up within three months of freezing.

It will not become unsafe after this point, but it may lose some of its taste and texture. When you are ready to use the tuna, make sure you place it in the fridge to thaw, so that it doesn’t get dangerously warm. Do not defrost it at room temperature; it will become unsafe to eat before it has fully thawed.

How Can You Tell If Tuna is No Longer Safe to Eat?

The first thing to check is how the fish smells. Moldy tuna will often have a strong, unpleasant scent before any other signs show. As the decay progresses, you will probably see white flecks appearing on the surface of the fish, and the texture may change.

To check whether tuna is okay, place it on the counter and wait for ten minutes or so. It’s hard to smell tuna when it is very cold, so let it warm up a bit before you check whether it smells okay or not. When it is warmer, sniff it.

If the tuna smells strongly fishy (beyond the normal aroma), sour, or otherwise off-putting, it should not be eaten. If the color has gone dull or dark, or the texture is mushy, it again needs to be thrown away.

Tuna can look and smell fine and still be unsafe to eat, but if any of these changes have occurred, it should be discarded.

How Long Can You Leave a Tuna Sandwich Out?

You should never leave a tuna sandwich unrefrigerated for more than two hours, or one hour in high temperatures. The bacteria will quickly spread through the fish, rendering it unsafe to eat. Refrigerate tuna sandwiches that are not going to be eaten soon, or even consider freezing them.

Always think about the shortest life ingredient when determining whether it is safe to leave a food at room temperature. Since tuna cannot be left out for more than two hours, you should not leave a tuna sandwich out for longer than this.

If you do accidentally leave one out, it’s best to throw it away, rather than risk food poisoning.

Final Thoughts

Tuna should not remain at room temperature for more than two hours, and it is best to put it straight into the fridge. The longer you leave it out for, the faster it will deteriorate and become unsafe to eat. Wrap tuna up and refrigerate it promptly to ensure that it lasts well.

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