How Long Can Tuna Salad Sit Out? [Safety & Proper Storage]

One of my favorite foods is tuna salad. We all have at least one food that we just can’t get enough of, and for me—it is tuna salad.

The funny thing is I am not a fan of seafood, but tuna seems different.  I have never had a tuna salad I didn’t like.  For some people, the cravings may be for chocolate, but for me, it is tuna.

I know it seems really odd, but sometimes cravings cannot be adequately explained. As a bonus, whenever I eat tuna salad, I must eat potato chips simultaneously.

Any other time, I never touch potato chips. I wouldn’t be surprised if my mother craved tuna salad while she was pregnant with me. That would explain a lot!

Proper storage and handling of tuna salad are crucial for maintaining its freshness and ensuring food safety. As a general guideline, tuna salad should not be left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. In hot weather, where temperatures exceed 90°F (32.2°C), this time reduces to just 1 hour. This is because bacteria grow rapidly at these temperatures, increasing the risk of foodborne illnesses. To extend the shelf life and preserve the quality of tuna salad, it’s essential to store it in an airtight container. This not only helps to keep it fresh for a longer period but also prevents the absorption of unwanted odors from your fridge. Refrigerating your tuna salad promptly and properly can keep it safe and enjoyable to eat for up to 3-5 days. Always check for any signs of spoilage before consuming, and when in doubt, it’s safer to discard it to avoid potential health risks.

If you are going to incorporate tuna salad into your meal planning or party planning, this article is for you.

We will discuss making tuna salad, storage, safety, and identify if your tuna salad is bad.

How To Store Tuna Salad?

Tuna salad tends to get left out during the summer months because it’s one of the cheaper types of fish to purchase.

It also tends to perish more quickly than other fish varieties, especially the oily ones like swordfish and whiting.

It’s good to know how to store this versatile fish so you don’t end up eating rotten fish later on. To help you out, here are some great tips.

Storing tuna is easy. Place it in an air-tight container and place it in the refrigerator. I tend to keep mine in a canning jar, but you can use any type of plastic or glass container as long as it has a cover.

Another option is to keep it covered with something like plastic wrap or aluminum foil.

Some newer storage options include silicone lids that are versatile enough to fit multiple size bowls.

Tuna Salad

Tuna salad will last in the fridge for up to five days, so be sure to eat it before day six! You can safely eat your tuna salad anytime before day six.

How Long Can Tuna Salad Remain Unrefrigerated?

Since most tuna salads have mayonnaise in them, they can only remain unrefrigerated long enough for the mayonnaise and fish to remain safe.

A fresh jar of mayonnaise can stay unrefrigerated in your pantry. However, do not leave it out more than eight hours for safe consumption once that jar is open. 

Tuna, however, should not be left unrefrigerated for more than two hours. Therefore, the maximum unrefrigerated exposure should be no more than two hours.

If the space is warm, such as sunlight, greater than 90 degrees, and other conditions, two hours are reduced to one hour.

Once that period of time has passed, bacteria can become problematic with unpleasant side effects. 

Keep in mind cans of tuna that have not been opened can be safely stored in your pantry for up to one year.

Plus, cans of tuna do have sell-by dates on them. When I have opened up older cans of tuna, I can immediately tell if the tuna has gone bad by the smell or appearance.

Dangers Of Leaving Tuna Salad Unrefrigerated

We have all been to picnics that include tuna salad. Honestly, it is one of my favorite picnic items, and I look forward to it every time.

However, I always inspect the tuna salad and try to figure out how long it has been left out, it has been covered the entire time, and as a side note – how many people have been touching the salad, especially since COVID.

But what happens if the tuna salad has been unrefrigerated for too long? Salmonella is one primary concern for sure. 

It is a bacterium that is caused by eating infected foods. Salmonella can be carried by touching some raw food and consuming it.

Food poisoning is usually caused by eating food that has come into contact with a dirty utensil such as a cutting board, a plate, or a toaster.

It can occur very quickly in humans when food is consumed without the proper cooking or storage procedures.

Salmonella poisoning can also occur very rapidly if the food is stored at high temperatures for a long time, such as fish, meats, and poultry.

This can quickly happen with tuna salad left unrefrigerated, in the sun, at a picnic.

If you are serving tuna salad at a picnic, try setting the salad up in a cooler, on ice and covered. People can still access it and help themselves, but it will be safe to consume in the meantime.

The most common symptom of Salmonella poisoning is diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. These symptoms can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.

In severe cases, dehydration, a weakening of the heart, and kidney problems have been reported in people suffering from salmonella poisoning.

It is essential to seek medical treatment as quickly as possible to prevent permanent damage to your body. 

Food poisoning also goes by the name of scombroid, also called the “simple scombroid,” is a food-borne illness that occurs after eating spoiled fish.

Flushing of the skin, headaches, itchiness, blurred vision, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea are some of the symptoms of this infection.

How To Tell If Your Tuna Salad Is Bad?

The tuna salad you made should be good to eat once it has been prepared, wouldn’t you say?

The food becomes unsafe to eat if it sits in the fridge for too long or is left unrefrigerated and uncovered.

Bacteria and many other pathogens can breed quickly in conditions of temperature fluctuation and air exposure. 

Temperatures of 40°F to 140°F are the optimal temperatures for bacteria to grow. There is a range of temperatures in between these two that the USDA calls “Danger Zone”. It is best to stay away from this danger zone at all costs. 

The best way to slow the growth of these bacteria is to keep tuna salad in the fridge at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have a refrigerator thermometer, that helps a great deal!

When you smell your tuna, you can easily tell if it’s rotten. This is a sign that you don’t want to eat it if it smells unpleasant or fishy. It is also possible for tuna salads to become very watery if they are spoiling.

When tuna is bad, you can tell by the taste. It is best to throw it out if it has a slightly bad taste instead of taking a chance. 

Wild Planet Ready-to-Eat Wild Tuna, Bean & Corn Salad with Organic Sweetcorn, Red Peppers and Carrots, 5.6oz, (Pack of 4)

There is no doubt that bad tuna will have obvious brown streaks on their surface, in fact, they may even be black.

It is worth noting that good tuna, even when dark in color, has more of a reddish hue when cooked.

Can Tuna Salad Be Frozen?

Most tuna salads include mayonnaise and therefore mayonnaise should not be frozen. Refrigeration is necessary. 

Can Cooked Tuna Be Eaten Cold?

In terms of a tuna steak, you can reheat it if it has been properly chilled since it has been cooked. However, I would not recommend this.

On a salad, I enjoy eating it at room temperature or cold. The tuna can be re-seared if it has merely been pan-seared and is in a condition of being very rare all the way through.

How Does Canned Tuna Last So Long

Genova Premium Yellowfin Tuna in Olive Oil, Wild Caught, Solid Light, 5 oz. Can (Pack of 8)

Because frozen tuna is placed in the cans (rather than already cooked tuna, which is standard for many brands and varieties of canned tuna), the tuna in these cans have only been cooked once, instead of twice.

The tuna is vacuum-sealed and sterilized before it is packaged in cans so that it will remain shelf-stable and be safe to eat for a very long time.

Tuna Salad Recipes

Are you looking for an excellent recipe for Tuna Salad? How do I make tuna salad? Follow these steps and get the best tuna salad you’ve ever had!

Tuna sandwiches are an easy way to make a quick meal that’s healthy too. I make it – they eat it!

Tuna sandwiches can easily be made ahead of time and frozen in an airtight container for up to three days.

Personally, I never freeze them because my tuna never survives that long in my house.

Most tuna salads start with a primary balance of tuna and mayonnaise. From there, variations make tuna salad more and more exciting.

If you’re not used to eating tuna salad, you can start by substituting the mayonnaise with a low-fat yogurt or sour cream substitute if you’d like. I know someone who uses Italian dressing instead of mayonnaise. 

If it doesn’t taste as good as you think, it will add more yogurt or a little more lemon juice.

If you find that the flavors are still not the same as you remembered, add a little more of the yogurt or lemon juice to give it a bit of a boost.

The key is to try and change things up until you find the exact combination you love. Don’t forget to use fresh herbs like dill and fresh thyme for that extra touch.

My favorite tuna salad is vegan mayonnaise (not a vegan dish, but I like vegan mayo better than traditional mayo).

Add in salt, pepper, dill, diced celery, and either diced red onions or chopped scallions.

I often eat it like that, but sometimes I mix in mashed chickpeas or crumbled-up crackers.

What crackers do I use? Anything I have on hand. I enjoy a tuna salad with a blend of textures and flavors that crackers, potato chips, and/or chickpeas can provide.

Another great recipe for tuna salad is to use diced cucumber or diced pickles. Pickles are very simple to make and can be a fantastic complement to any tuna salad recipe.

Cucumbers, too, have that nice crunch that many people love when they eat something with a crunch. If you don’t have pickles or cucumbers around, you can food swap with relish.

Other ingredients you can play around with for your tuna salad are tomatoes, avocados, radishes, and coleslaw.

No need for bread when you mix coleslaw in the tuna salad. Serve it just like that. Honestly, it would be so cool to set up a tuna salad bar – tuna and all the fixings, everyone makes their concoction.

Final Verdict

Don’t give up your favorite meal of tuna salad but do pay special attention to safety precautions for your health and others. Tuna salad is an excellent meal, especially in the summer picnic season.

If you are ever concerned about the safety of the tuna salad – offer to bring that dish yourself to potluck picnics and meals. 

Then you are responsible for the safety of the food being served, and you know the precautions.

All of this information is presented under the assumption you are making tuna salad from a can of tuna, whether the can is tuna in water or tuna in oil.

The information may be different if you are dealing with fresh slabs of tuna rather than canned tuna. 

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