How Long Is SPAM Really Good For After You Open It?

SPAM on a plate
SPAM on a plate - Traveler1116/Getty Images

SPAM might have a bit of a reputation as a love-it-or-hate-it kind of food, but it's safe to say that many people love it. It hit shelves in 1937, and today, Hormel says that 12.8 cans of SPAM products are eaten every second. That's a ton of SPAM, but what happens if you crack open that can and don't finish all the preserved pork goodness inside?

SPAM is notorious for having a pretty long shelf life, but once the seal is broken, time starts ticking. USDA guidelines suggest that once canned goods are opened, they should be used within four days. Does that apply to SPAM as well?

SPAM can actually last a bit longer than that. If it's stored properly in the fridge, it can be good for between seven and ten days after opening. It's worth mentioning that some sources suggest that it should be eaten within five days of opening, so it might be better to err on the side of caution. Let's look at just what it is that makes SPAM last so long — in and out of the can — and how you can tell if it's safe to eat or if you should cut your losses before making someone sick.

Read more: What These Imitation Foods Are Actually Made Of

Here's Why SPAM Lasts So Long

can of SPAM
can of SPAM - Miro Vrlik Photography/Shutterstock

The same compound that helps give this canned meat its distinctive pink color is responsible for the long shelf life, and there's some interesting food science going on here. SPAM is made with only a handful of ingredients, including pork (and ham), water, potato starch, sugar, salt, and sodium nitrite. That last one is an inorganic salt compound and a preservative commonly added to cured meats to help keep those meats from developing toxins, including the one that causes the food poisoning known as botulism, C. botulinum. (Fun fact: Sodium nitrite is also an antidote for cyanide poisoning.)

It's also the key to SPAM's long shelf life. When you pick up a can at the store, it will have a best-by date. That's usually about three years in the future, and as long as the can is unopened and undamaged, it'll be absolutely fine — thanks to the sodium nitrite and the preservation process the meat and cans undergo.

While we might commonly refer to dates on cans as expiration dates, that's not the case with this one. That unopened can of SPAM that's kept in a dark place and stored at a relatively stable room temperature can easily remain edible for up to five years, although — as the term "best-by" suggests — it might not be as good as a newer can. After it's opened, it'll last longest in an airtight container in the fridge.

There Are Signs That Your SPAM Has Gone Bad

SPAM quesadilla on plate with sauce
SPAM quesadilla on plate with sauce - Leigh Anne Meeks/Shutterstock

No one likes opening a can of any food and not finishing it before it gets a little funky, but there's good news. If you think you're not going to finish the last portion of SPAM before it reaches the end of its refrigerator life, you can seal it in an airtight container or bag and freeze it to keep it fresh for a little while longer. Your best practice is to slice it, put it in a freezer bag, and remove as much air as possible before sealing.

That said, SPAM does go bad. We've all forgotten about foods in the fridge that we definitely meant to use, and if that happens with SPAM, it's not guaranteed to be fresh and infinitely good. Check for a slimy, spongy texture: That, along with unusual odors and off colors, all means it's time to throw your leftovers away.

Fortunately, there are plenty of easy yet delicious ways to use up leftover SPAM before it gets to that point. If you don't feel like freezing it, SPAM quesadillas make a great late-night snack. SPAM fried rice is a great side with almost any main course, and if you've never had SPAM grilled cheese, trust us when we say that it's pretty perfect alongside your favorite roasted tomato soup.

Read the original article on The Daily Meal.