How long does tuna last out of the fridge? (Dangers of spoiled tuna)

In this brief guide, we will answer the question, ‘How long does tuna last out of the fridge?’. We will look at the factors that make tuna spoil quicker than usual. We will also look at ways and factors that elongate the shelf-life of tuna.

How long does tuna last out of the fridge?

Seafood should never be left unattended for more than two hours. Allowing raw or cooked tuna to sit at room temperature for extended periods creates an optimal breeding ground for harmful bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella Enteritidis, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Campylobacter.

This can lead to the potential risk of foodborne illnesses. These bacteria tend to multiply most rapidly within a temperature range of 40 °F to 140 °F, which is commonly referred to as the ‘Danger Zone.’ Within this range, their populations can double in as little as 20 minutes.

Improperly cooling cooked tuna is a significant contributor to foodborne illnesses because bacteria can recontaminate the tuna after it has been safely cooked. On the flip side, commercially canned fish, such as tuna, can be safely stored in your pantry for up to five years. However, if you’re dealing with home-canned fish, its shelf life is limited to just one year. (1, 2)

How long can tuna stay in the fridge? 

When correctly preserved in a refrigerator set at or below 40°F (4.4°C) and stored in an airtight container, fresh, chilled tuna usually retains its quality for about 2 to 3 days. In contrast, vacuum-sealed tuna enjoys a more extended shelf life, lasting roughly 5 to 7 days when stored under similar conditions.

The decline in the freshness and quality of fresh tuna during storage can be ascribed to several factors, including microbial spoilage, autolytic degradation, and lipid oxidation. (3, 4)

How to tell if tuna has spoiled?

Hemoglobin oxidation leads to a change in the color of the tuna, shifting from a purplish-red tone (deoxymyoglobin) to a brown hue (metmyoglobin). Lipid oxidation can occur through enzymatic or non-enzymatic processes, resulting in the generation of undesirable flavors.

These oxidations of lipids and hemoglobin are the main catalysts for alterations in tuna over its shelf life. Microbial growth is the primary mechanism accountable for the deterioration of tuna and remains a pivotal factor affecting the quality of tuna that is fresh or lightly preserved.

Initially, the muscle tissues of the fish remain free of microorganisms, but after the fish’s demise, they become vulnerable to contamination by the microbes residing on the fish’s skin. This contamination brings about unfavorable changes in appearance, texture, taste, and smell, ultimately compromising the overall quality of the fish.

The spoilage triggered by microorganisms results in the production of volatile amines, biogenic amines, organic acids, sulfides, alcohols, aldehydes, and ketones, all of which contribute to the development of unpleasant and unacceptable off-flavors. (4, 5)

Why does tuna fish spoil so soon?

Tuna is an extremely perishable seafood item susceptible to both chemical and microbial decay. Its high water activity, elevated postmortem pH (>6), and an abundance of low molecular weight constituents create an ideal breeding ground for bacterial growth. This bacterial proliferation is chiefly responsible for the degradation of sensory qualities.

The primary factors contributing to the diminishing quality of refrigerated tuna are the oxidation of lipids and myoglobin, significantly reducing the shelf life of perishable foods.

Furthermore, freshly caught fish undergo natural microbial spoilage, during which various components break down, giving rise to new compounds. These compounds are accountable for changes in the fish flesh’s color, flavor, odor, and texture. (6, 7)

What happens if you eat bad tuna?

Fish products, including tuna, have the potential to serve as carriers for various foodborne pathogens, and contamination can arise from both environmental factors and processing methods. Moreover, improper storage conditions, particularly temperature mishandling, can foster the growth of pathogens, elevating the risk of reaching infectious levels.

Histamine fish poisoning (HFP) stands as the predominant cause of foodborne illnesses associated with fish consumption. HFP occurs when individuals consume an elevated amount of histamine produced due to bacterial decarboxylation of free histidine. Scombroid fish, such as tuna, are often implicated in such cases due to their high levels of free histidine in muscle tissues.

Typical symptoms of HFP encompass skin rashes, diarrhea, facial reddening or flushing (sometimes extending to the neck, arms, and upper body), perspiration, headaches, and vomiting.

Furthermore, consuming fresh, contaminated tuna can lead to Salmonella infections, characterized by symptoms like diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps, typically appearing within 72 hours of exposure. This infection typically lasts for four to seven days, with most individuals recovering without requiring medical intervention. (7, 8)

Other FAQs about Tuna which you may be interested in.


How long can you keep tuna fish in the fridge?

How long can you keep fresh tuna in the fridge?


In this brief guide, we answered the question, ‘How long does tuna last out of the fridge?’. We looked at the factors that make tuna spoil quicker than usual. We also looked at ways and factors that elongate the shelf-life of tuna.

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U.S. Department of Agriculture. Website. Washington, DC. “Danger Zone” (40 °F – 140 °F). 2016.


U.S. Department of Agriculture. Website. Washington, DC.How long can you store fish? 2023.


TAVARES, Jéssica et al. Fresh fish degradation and advances in preservation using physical emerging technologies. Foods, v. 10, n. 4, p. 780, 2021.


TORRIERI, Elena et al. Effect of modified atmosphere and active packaging on the shelf-life of fresh bluefin tuna fillets. Journal of Food Engineering, v. 105, n. 3, p. 429-435, 2011.


MAHMOUD, Barakat SM et al. Improving the safety and quality of raw tuna fillets by X-ray irradiation. Food Control, v. 60, p. 569-574, 2016.