Spam is one of the most divisive canned meats on the market. The folks that hate it claim Spam is mystery meat assembled from the previously rejected and least desirable parts of a pig, and that it has been chemically treated so that it will never spoil.
Fans of Spam appreciated for what it is, quality canned pork useful in a variety of recipes and as a dependable mainstay for long-term storage.
Is Spam real meat? And most pressingly, how long does Spam really last?
Spam will last anywhere from 3 to 5 years in storage if kept unopened in a room temperature, dark place. Spam does not, in fact, last forever.
Whether you personally love it or hate it, you have to give Spam credit as a genuine piece of Americana. It has been with us for a long time, and looks like it is going to be with us for a lot longer yet.
It definitely deserves a spot in your survival pantry since it has an excellent shelf life and is ready to eat right out of the can in a pinch.
Keep reading and we will tell you everything you need to know about the shelf life of Spam.
The Sell-By Date on the Can isn’t 3 to 5 Years…
No, it isn’t. But it must be pointed out that the manufacturers sell by or best by date printed on the can is really only a guideline for freshness and best taste. It is not indicative of the actual storage lifespan of your can of Spam.
You don’t have to take my word for it. There are mountains of research and anecdotal evidence out there that shows most canned goods, including meat and especially including Spam, are completely edible, tasty, and safe far beyond the marked sell by date.
Spam Will Not Last Forever, Though
Let’s get one important thing out of the way right up front: Spam does not last forever in storage. This is one old wives’ tale and internet rumor that just refuses to die.
Depending on who you ask or where you see the story, some people claim that Spam is so laden with chemical preservatives that it will never spoil, or it is made from some mysterious, vat grown meat that isn’t real, and so it never goes bad.
Pretty salacious stuff, and though it makes for entertaining forum reading or locker room talk it’s simply not true. Spam is real meat, and even though it contains a preservative it will spoil in time.
Technically, I guess this is good and bad, in a way: It is good because the Spam on your shelf is actually real pork, and pork with a very short and clean ingredients list.
But it’s bad because, despite its very long shelf life, it does not have a truly indefinite shelf life. Too bad!
What Ingredients are in Spam?
If you care to read this ingredients list yourself you’ll see that it contains pork, salt, sugar, potato starch, and sodium nitrite. That’s it! Easy enough to understand, but what makes it last so long, then?
What Makes Spam Last So Long?
There is a lot more to the long shelf life of Spam than the inclusion of sodium nitrite, a preservative. This stuff works wonders, but it isn’t that good.
In fact, a big contributor to its shelf life is actually how it is made and canned in the factory. Trust me, we aren’t going to get into gory details, and the steps are actually pretty fascinating.
That can of Spam sitting on your shelf begins life as a mixture of fresh ham and pork getting ground up at the factory, and to this mixture a lot of salt is added.
Salt helps act as an additional preservative to keep Spam fresh, and also gives it that deliciously salty flavor. After the salt is mixed in, so is sugar and then the potato starch and sodium nitrite.
After all ingredients are added, our pork mixture is continually mixed and then gently heated before being portioned out into those iconic pop top cans.
Here’s where the really interesting stuff starts to happen: in quick succession, the cans are robotically vacuum-sealed with their lids before being cooked after they are closed up.
This one-two punch completely obliterates germs and removes oxygen from the container, almost totally eliminating the microscopic reactions that need to occur for spoilage to take place.
After the cans cool, they are labeled, packaged, and shipped. It is this highly meticulous and automated process, one that reduces human handling and thus reduces contamination, that lends Spam its spectacular shelf life.
How Long will Spam Last After it has Been Opened?
Since we have been busting myths, let’s bust another one. Spam will not actually last very long before spoiling after it has been opened. This is just another nail in the coffin for the “mystery meat” theory that continues to circulate.
After you open a can of Spam, if you don’t refrigerate it you’ll get no more than a couple of days tops out of it before it is in a really bad state. With refrigeration, you can get maybe a week out of it, perhaps slightly longer.
This is because your Spam, like all canned foods described above, is completely dependent upon that vacuum seal to keep germs and decay at bay.
Once the seal is broken, germs will start to get in, or else what microorganisms are actually in the can already will get the oxygen they need to start feeding and reproducing. Shortly after that, decay.
The short version is you cannot trust an opened can of Spam if it has not been under your direct control, and you’d better eat it in short order after opening before it goes bad.
What Can Cause Spam to go Bad in Storage?
The number one cause of Spam going bad in storage, assuming it is within the estimated shelf life time frame, is a defective or damaged seal on the can.
Those pull-tab, pop-top cans are easy to open, but they are slightly more vulnerable to denting and damage than traditional cans, and any canned food, including Spam, can secretly (or not so secretly!) spoil if the seal is compromised.
If a can of Spam is dropped, dented, slammed or otherwise impacted the seal might break in a way that you cannot readily see or detect, and this will start it spoiling.
This is why you don’t want to purchase dented or dinged cans at the grocery store, and furthermore, why you want to handle them carefully until you get them put up; don’t just slam down that bag of groceries carrying a half dozen cans of Spam.
Figuring Out if a Can of Spam Has Gone Bad
When inspecting your canned goods, be alert to any noticeable odor that might signal a damaged seal, and also look out for leaking moisture or oily spots on the label which will obviously indicate a problem.
A somewhat subtler symptom is a can that is very rigid, “puffy” or swelling; this means that enough of the seal is still intact to trap the gasses generated by microorganisms inside the can as the Spam decays; don’t even think about opening it, just throw it out! You’ll be sorry if you do…
Tom Marlowe grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, He has the experience in helping civilian shooters figure out what firearms work best for them.