Storage & Handling

Canned and pouch tuna are popular pantry and emergency staples because they are delicious, packed with good nutrition, and easy to keep on hand. Here are a few storage tips that will help you ensure the safety and freshness of your purchase:

  • Prior to Opening:


    • Place cans and pouches of tuna in a cool place. The best temperature for storage is room temperature.
    • Keep cans and pouches dry and off the floor because this will prevent them from rusting and leaking, or accidentally being crushed.
    • If a can or pouch of tuna bulges, is dented, rusty or torn do not use it. These are all signs that the tuna is spoiled and should not be eaten.
    • Use older cans or pouches of tuna you already have on hand before newer purchases. This will help you guarantee the quality and freshness of your food.
    • Store newer cans or pouches behind older ones to help you remember to use the older products first.
    • For the best quality and taste, use canned and pouch tuna by the "best by" date stamped on the can or pouch. If the packaging doesn’t have a freshness date, aim to use the tuna within 12-24 months of purchase for the best taste.
    • According to the USDA, low-acid, commercially canned foods (such as tuna) will stay at best quality for 2 to 5 years if stored properly.

    After Opening:


    • Immediately refrigerate unused or leftover tuna. If you are unable to refrigerate it within two hours (one hour if the room temperature is above 90 degrees F) do not use it as it may be spoiled.
    • You may refrigerate unused tuna in a clean, tightly covered plastic or glass container for up to 2 days.
    • Freeze unused or leftover tuna in a freezer-proof bag or container. It will keep at best quality for up to 4 months.
    • Defrost frozen tuna in the refrigerator, never on the counter.
  • Fresh Tuna:

    It’s best to purchase fresh tuna from a store that has a good reputation for having a frequent supply of fresh fish. Get to know a fishmonger (the person who sells the fish) at the store, so you can have a trusted resource from whom you can purchase your fish with confidence.

    Fresh whole tuna should be displayed buried in ice, while fillets and steaks should be placed on top of the ice. Avoid purchasing tuna that has dry or brown spots.

    Smell can help you to determine if the tuna is fresh. Once you handle the wrapped up fish you’ve selected, take a sniff of it through the wrapping. If it has a truly strong fishy odor, return it.

    Fresh Tuna Storage:

    Fresh seafood should be put on ice or placed in the refrigerator or freezer soon after buying it. Here is a helpful guideline for determining where to store it: If you intend to use it within two days after purchase, store your seafood in the refrigerator. However, if seafood won't be used within two days after purchase, wrap it tightly in moisture-proof freezer paper or foil to protect it from air leaks and store it in the freezer.

    Fresh Tuna Preparation:

    Thaw frozen seafood gradually by placing it in the refrigerator overnight. If you have to thaw seafood quickly, either seal it in a plastic bag and immerse it in cold water, or if the food will be cooked immediately thereafter, microwave it on the "defrost" setting and stop the defrost cycle while the fish is still icy but pliable.

    Serving Fresh Tuna:

    When serving fresh seafood, you should still be careful of cross-contamination which can happen once your seafood is cooked, too. Here are some tips to keep your seafood safe when serving:


    • Place cooked seafood on a clean plate for serving. If cooked foods are placed on an unwashed plate that previously held raw seafood, bacteria from the raw food could contaminate the cooked seafood.
    • Use clean utensils to serve food – not those used in preparation of the raw food.
    • A clean cooler is important! Be sure to clean coolers with hot soapy water before packing cooked seafood. Cleaning is especially important if the cooler was previously used to transport raw seafood. A clean cooler prevents harmful bacteria from the raw fish from contaminating cooked seafood or other foods.
  • Beware of Cross-Contamination:

    When you're preparing fresh or thawed seafood – or any type of fresh ‘protein’ food such poultry, pork or beef - it's important to prevent bacteria from the raw food from spreading to other ready-to-eat food.

    These steps will help to avoid cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods:


    • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before and after handling any raw food.
    • After using a cutting board to prepare raw seafood, wash it with soap and hot water to remove food particles and juices before using the board for cooked or ready-to-eat foods or preparing any other food items.
    • As an added precaution, sanitize cutting boards by rinsing them in a solution made of one teaspoon of chlorine bleach in one quart of water or running the plastic board through the wash cycle in your automatic dishwasher. Or, consider using one cutting board only for raw foods and another only for ready-to-eat foods such as bread, fresh fruit and vegetables and cooked fish.
    • Choose cutting boards made of hard materials such as maple or plastic, and make sure they are free of cracks and crevices. Smooth surfaces can be cleaned more easily and thoroughly.
    • Most seafood should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 °F. But, if you don't have a food thermometer, there are other ways to determine whether seafood is done. For fresh fish like tuna, slip the point of a sharp knife into the flesh and pull it aside. The flesh should be opaque and separate easily. If you cooked the fish in the microwave, check it in more than one spot to help ensure it is completely cooked throughout.
  • The Dates on Canned Foods: What do they really mean?

    The dates marked on canned foods are voluntarily placed there by food companies and are not required by the FDA (except for infant formula and some baby foods).

    Why?

    Because the FDA is only concerned with food-borne illness (bacterial or other contamination of foods that cause sickness)—and, according to the FDA, unopened cans of food can be safe virtually forever from food-borne illness.

    But this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should eat canned foods that have been sitting on the shelf for a long time because the quality of the food may be poor. Food quality addresses the taste, texture and nutritional value of food. (Food spoilage, rancidity and freezer burn are all relate to food quality.)

    Some manufacturers voluntarily date their products to tell consumers when a product is at best quality. The types of dates are listed below.

    "Sell-by" dates tell stores how long to keep the product on the shelf for sale. Purchase foods well before the “sell-by” date has expired to ensure you have plenty of time to use the product at best quality.

    "Best if used by" dates are not purchase or safety dates, but alert you to when the product should be used for best quality and flavor.

    "Use-by" dates are determined by the manufacturer of the product and let you know the last date that is recommended for use of the product at best quality.

    "Closed or coded" dates are packing numbers that manufacturers use to locate their product in case of a recall.


  • Keep everything clean.


    • Before preparing lunch, wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds with warm soapy water. Wash them again any time you touch raw meat or poultry. This will keep the foods you make free from any bacteria (germs) you may have on your hands.
    • Use clean utensils, cutting boards and containers when making and packing lunches, and wash them between cutting or preparing different foods.
    • Wash the lids of canned foods before opening them to keep dirt from getting into the food. Also, clean the blade of the can opener after each use.

    Keep lunches cold.


    • Keeping food cold slows the growth of bacteria that can spoil it. Pack foods in an insulated lunch box or bag with a small freezer gel pack or frozen juice box. Pack perishable foods, such as sandwiches right next to the freezer pack—this will keep them especially cold.
    • According to the USDA, freezer gel packs will hold cold foods safely until lunchtime, but generally will not work for all-day storage. Perishable leftovers should be thrown away after lunch and not brought home.

    Pack un-opened, individually portioned containers of perishable foods.


    • Many food companies sell individual serving sizes of foods that are the perfect size to include in lunches. (Some examples include small cans of tuna, individual serving packets of mayo, or canned fruit cups.) These foods, if left un-opened till the time they are to be eaten, do not have to be refrigerated. Simply open these foods at lunchtime and enjoy!