How to tell if canned salmon is bad?

In this brief article, we are going to answer the question “How to tell if canned salmon is bad” with an in-depth analysis of different ways to spot bad canned salmon. Moreover, we are going to discuss the health implications of eating bad canned salmon and the shelf life of canned salmon.

How to tell if canned salmon is bad?

There are different easy ways to identify if your canned salmon is spoiled that could help you to ensure your safety. Here are four common signs that canned salmon may be spoiled:

Important: be aware that eating spoiled canned salmon can be very harmful to our health (1-4). You should not eat spoiled canned salmon!

  1. Foul odor: If you notice a strong, unpleasant odor coming from the can of salmon, it is likely spoiled. 

Remember that fresh canned salmon should have a mild, fishy smell. If it smells off, rancid, or overly pungent, it is always best to discard it.

  1. Damaged or bulging can: Examine the can for any visible signs of damage, bulging, or leakage. These can be indications of bacterial growth and consequently  spoilage.

You should always check if your can of salmon appears bloated, dented, or has a broken seal, if this is the case, it is safer to discard the contents.

  1. Unusual texture or appearance: Canned salmon should have a firm texture and a consistent color throughout. If you observe any mold, discoloration, or sliminess on the salmon, it is likely spoiled. 

Additionally, if the texture seems excessively mushy or disintegrates easily, you should avoid consuming it.

  1. Unusual taste: While canned salmon typically has a distinct flavor, if you notice any off or sour taste, it may be a sign of spoilage. Stop eating it immediately!

Remember that if you suspect that canned salmon is spoiled or if you are unsure about its safety, it is always better to discard it to avoid the risk of foodborne illnesses.

Can you get sick from eating spoiled canned salmon?

Yes, eating spoiled canned salmon can pose several health risks due to the presence of harmful pathogens and their toxins (1-4). 

Here are some potential dangers and associated symptoms that you may experience:

  • Foodborne bacterial infections: Bacterial contamination in spoiled canned salmon can lead to foodborne illnesses. Some common pathogens that can cause such infections include:
  • Salmonella: Symptoms may include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, and vomiting (2). Salmonella infection can be severe, especially for vulnerable individuals such as young children, elderly people, or those with weakened immune systems.
  • Clostridium botulinum: This bacterium can produce toxins that cause botulism, a serious illness that can be fatal (4).

Symptoms may include blurred or double vision, difficulty speaking or swallowing, muscle weakness, and paralysis.

Be aware that botulism can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention (5).

  • Staphylococcus aureus: Ingesting the toxins produced by this bacterium can cause severe food poisoning (1). Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Fever and dehydration can also occur in severe cases.
  • Histamine poisoning: Spoiled canned salmon can contain high levels of histamine due to improper storage or handling. Histamine poisoning, also known as scombrotoxin poisoning, can lead to symptoms such as flushing of the face, headache, sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea (3,6).
  • Allergic reactions: Some individuals may be allergic to certain components of canned salmon, such as fish proteins. Consuming spoiled salmon may trigger allergic reactions, including itching, hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, and in severe cases, anaphylaxis (7).

It is very important to note that these symptoms can vary in severity and may differ from person to person. 

If you experience any adverse effects after consuming spoiled canned salmon, it’s crucial to seek medical attention promptly, especially if the symptoms are severe or persist for an extended period.

What should you do if you suspect you have eaten spoiled canned salmon?

If you have consumed spoiled canned salmon and suspect food poisoning or an adverse reaction, it is important to take immediate action. 

Assess your symptoms, noting their severity and duration. If symptoms are severe or persistent, seek medical attention promptly from a healthcare professional. 

Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, avoiding alcoholic beverages and caffeine. 

You should monitor your condition closely, and if symptoms worsen or become severe, seek immediate medical attention or call emergency services. 

Finally, you should consider reporting the incident to your local health department or food safety authority to help prevent others from consuming contaminated products.

How to properly handle canned salmon to avoid spoilage?

To handle canned salmon properly and prevent spoilage, start by purchasing cans in good condition and checking the expiration date. 

Store the cans in a cool, dry place away from heat and sunlight, maintaining a temperature below 75°F (24°C). 

Follow the “first in, first out” rule, using older cans before newer ones. 

You should know that the shelf life of canned salmon is typically 2 to 5 years, but it is best to consume it within 2 to 3 years for optimal quality (8). 

If you open a can but do not use all the salmon, transfer the leftovers to a covered container and refrigerate for up to 2 to 3 days. 

For long-term storage of unopened cans, store them properly in a cool, dry place to extend their shelf life. 

By adhering to the guidelines exposed in this article, you could ensure the safety and quality of your canned salmon and safely enjoy it.


In this brief article, we answered the question “How to tell if canned salmon is bad” with an in-depth analysis of different ways to spot bad canned salmon. Moreover, we discussed the health implications of eating bad canned salmon and the shelf life of canned salmon.


1. Stersky AK, Szabo R, Todd ECD, Thacker C, Dickie N, Akhtar M. Staphylococcus aureus Growth and Thermostable Nuclease and Enterotoxin Production in Canned Salmon and Sardines. J Food Prot [Internet]. 1986 Jun 1 [cited 2023 May 21];49(6):428–35. Available from: 

2. Stersky A, Todd E, Pivnick H. Food Poisoning Associated with Post-Process Leakage (PPL) in Canned Foods. J Food Prot [Internet]. 1980 Jun [cited 2023 May 21];43(6):465–77. Available from: 

3. Russell FE, Maretić Z. Scombroid poisoning: Mini-review with case histories. Toxicon. 1986 Jan 1;24(10):967–73. 

4. Toxin Production by Clostridium botulinum in Canned Foods on JSTOR [Internet]. [cited 2023 May 21]. Available from: 

5. Ting PT, Freiman A. The story of Clostridium botulinum: from food poisoning to Botox. Clin Med (Northfield Il) [Internet]. 2004 May 5 [cited 2023 May 3];4(3):258. Available from: 

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7. Patel P, Komorowski AS, Mack DP. An allergist’s approach to food poisoning. Ann Allergy, Asthma Immunol [Internet]. 2023 Apr 1 [cited 2023 May 5];130(4):444–51. Available from: 

8. Byun Y, Bae HJ, Cooksey K, Whiteside S. Comparison of the quality and storage stability of salmon packaged in various retort pouches. LWT – Food Sci Technol [Internet]. 2010 Apr 1 [cited 2023 May 21];43(3):551–5. Available from: 

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