What’s the Actual Shelf-life of Spam?

Love it or hate it, Spam is one American delicacy that has stood the test of time, and it is definitely here to stay. All sorts of folks love the taste and convenience of Spam, as all you need to do to prepare it is remove it from that iconic blue can and heat it up in any way that you choose.

frying homemade spam in pan
frying homemade spam in pan

Aside from its good taste, Spam also has a long shelf life, supposedly, according to some, forever, owing to some mysterious mode of production or secret ingredient. Is this true?

What is the actual shelf life of Spam?

The shelf life of Spam is anywhere from 3 to 5 years, assuming that the quality seal has not been breached, and the can is undamaged. It’s not indefinite contrary to popular belief. The sell-by date is considerably shorter than the expected shelf life.

It is also worth noting that the manufacturer of Spam, Hormel foods, advises you to enjoy your Spam by the sell-by date.

So, as it turns out, Spam will spoil, but you have a good long time to enjoy it and this definitely recommends it for preppers since you won’t have to rotate it very often. We’ll answer all your questions about Spam that you never thought to ask below!

So You’re Telling Me It Will Actually Spoil?

Sorry to rain on your parade, but your beloved stack of Spam cans will eventually spoil on you.

Funny, it seems like all sorts of urban legends about various beloved foodstuffs never spoiling, no matter what, turn out to be fake, same with Sno-Balls and Twinkies surviving nuclear winter.

Though this is sure to be a major disappointment for some of our readers it turns out that this revelation does include a silver lining.

The supposed invincibility against spoilage possessed of Spam in a can is ostensibly due to the ingredients list, with one rumor being that fully 50% of the content of any given can of Spam is meat preservatives and the other prevailing rumor being that it contains only “meat” in the most tenuous sense of the word.

Happily, I can report definitively that is just not true because Spam will, in fact, spoil.

According to the maker, Hormel Foods, Spam is actually a remarkably simple and clean product, containing only pork, ham, salt, sugar, water, potato starch and sodium nitrite. Those are the only ingredients, in order, printed on the can and found at their website.

As it turns out, when you crack open a can of Spam you are getting some pretty high-quality meat compared to most other canned meat products and that is something we should surely be grateful for especially in a survival scenario.

The only ingredient truly worth noting on that list is sodium nitrite, which is a well-known and potent preservative. Its inclusion is to keep the Spam from spoiling, but also to maintain its overall freshness, texture and color.

However you feel about Spam, take heart and take heed because you aren’t eating some strange mystery meat, pseudo-meat “product” or meat preservative poured into a mold.

There is more to learn about the Spam shelf-life equation in the sections below.

homemade spam on cutting board
homemade spam on cutting board

The Shelf-Life Equation

No matter how good sodium nitrite is as a preservative, especially a meat preservative, it is not the only thing that contributes to Spam’s remarkable, long shelf life. How Spam is made and where it is made also contributes to this long life.

Specifically, the processes and quality control at the factory greatly contributes to its stability. I will tell you a little more about that in the remainder of this section and don’t worry: it isn’t a horror show.

Spam begins the long road from the beginning of the production line to your pantry and eventually to your plate, as pork and ham which are ground at the factory, and then mixed together fresh.

Once that is done a metric ton of salt is added which gives Spam its decidedly salty flavor, but also further contributes to its long shelf life.

A little sugar is added behind this and then the remainder of the ingredients mentioned above. Once all the ingredients are combined they will be mixed in a giant mixer for upwards of 20 minutes and gently heated.

Once heated, which further stabilizes the Spam mixture and kills germs, a 12 oz. portion is placed into that greatly beloved blue tin can.

It is also worth noting that all cans at the factory are moved via machines and conveyor belts to the sealing line where they are vacuum sealed and lidded in one fell swoop.

Removing human handling from this process further reduces the likelihood of germ contamination.

Assuming there are any germs remaining, vacuum sealing the cans kills those off, and further stops enzyme reaction that allows a bacterial growth to occur.

Now for the interesting part: it is only after all this and the vacuum sealing process that Spam, in its can, is cooked.

The cooking process obliterates any germs that might have, somehow, survived all the previous steps and makes your Spam delicious, safe and ready to eat as soon as you pop the top.

Once this is completed the only remaining step is labeling and packaging before it is expressed off to your local grocer.

It is easy to see from this explanation of the manufacturing process how Spam gets such a long shelf life.

A reasonable amount of preservatives combined with exacting quality control, minimal touching from humans and proper preparation procedure is all it takes to ensure your Spam will last for years to come until you are ready to open it and enjoy.

But Spam is Not Infallible

However, despite this remarkable long shelf-life, Spam is not infallible. As it turns out, no canned meat product or canned fruit or veggie is infallible, either.

They all have the same fundamental weakness, that being they depend entirely on the integrity of their container and its seal to maintain their typical freshness.

Any canned food product that has been damaged from rough handling (like dropping) or has gotten through the quality control line with subpar or improper sealing could potentially spoil far, far quicker than would be expected.

At any rate, the lack of vacuum inside the can will allow spoilage to take place far earlier than it would normally.

This is a slight vulnerability of your typical Spam can or any can with those easy-open pull-top lids because those can be popped or breached from dropping far easier than a typical can.

This isn’t something you have to lose sleep over, however, because it is generally pretty easy to tell when a can of Spam has been breached as you may be able to detect odor or you’ll notice that the can itself is swollen or feels way too rigid.

Use a little care in selecting your cans to take home from the grocery store and then handle them carefully and you shouldn’t have any problems.

What is the Shelf Life of Opened Spam?

Lest you think Spam won’t spoil even after it has been opened, I can quash that rumor right now. The makers of Spam will tell you that it will only last two or three days at most after it has been open if it has been refrigerated.

This is about what you can expect from any other cooked, preserved meat. Our own experience exceeds this recommendation, however.

I would depend on Spam to last two or three days after it’s been opened if it has no refrigeration, but assuming you do have access to refrigeration about seven days is what you can expect it to last easily, with 10 days being far from out of the question.

Whatever the case, once you open it, plan on eating it as soon as possible and you won’t have any issues. But assuming that you can’t or don’t for whatever reason so long as you keep the Spam cold you’ll have quite a while before you need to use it.

Does This Make Spam a Good Survival Food?

The lengthy expiration date provides a long term storage potential that would categorize Spam as survival food.

If you think about other preservation methods for survival foods you’ll realize that Spam is created using several common techniques, including pressure cooking, utilizing salt, and being vacuum-sealed.

In a survival situation, it’s all about how you store Spam. Idea conditions include being cool and dry. You don’t want to have bacteria get a chance at getting on the meat.

Keep the can free of dents and rust through proper food storage strategies that protect it from water and falling.

Keep a Lookout for Signs of Spoiled Spam

Spam is not a perfect product and will eventually break down on its own.

However, the majority of problems with it going bad occurs after some external force causes damage to the can. Here are some of the signs that your Spam has spoiled:

  • The can is bulging and is hard to push back in
  • The meat has a cloudy film or furry mold
  • There are dents around the seals of the can
  • Rust has accumulated on the can

Many of these are not definitive in terms of the health of the Spam, just an indication that you should proceed with caution.

Should You Eat Very Old Spam?

Use the above tips to determine if the Spam is too old to eat.

If you do a quick search online for people eating very old Spam you’ll quickly realize that even if the can is far beyond the expiry date, if the can was well stored the product will be fine. You might have an issue with taste and texture, but it will still be edible.

Tips on Maximizing the Shelf Life of your Spam

Here are some great tips for getting the most life out of your Spam storage. If you have tips from your own experience don’t forget to mention it down below in the comments.

Spam Lite tends to last longer than Spam Classic – This is most likely due to the reduced fat content. Fat has a tendency to go rancid as it contains too much moisture, even in dehydrated and preserved food.

Do not store your Spam on the floor – As stackable as the cans are you still want to make sure they are on a shelf or platform. Keeping cans on the floor can lead to condensation issues which develop into rust.

Try not to freeze the Spam – If you freeze your Spam and defrost it too quickly the meat will spoil. If you do need to thaw it out, try doing it in the fridge so that the temperature reduction is gradual.


Contrary to urban legend and legions of haters Spam does not have an indefinite shelf life, but it does have a very lengthy one of three to five years so long as it is unopened and undamaged.

Spam is made from simple ingredients and prepared with exacting procedures so you can count on it to go the distance and this makes it a great staple for preppers, and a tasty one!

Spam is one of the best and most reliable sources of animal protein you can have in your pantry for a rainy day, and now you don’t need to worry about rotating your stash of glorious blue cans.

6 thoughts on “What’s the Actual Shelf-life of Spam?”

  1. Great info Dan! Love Spam fried in butter on toast. My son and I keep Spam in our stash and regular cupboards! Is a delicious comfort food.
    God Bless and stay safe…

  2. I actually toured the Spam factory and was surprised it’s injected as a slurry into the can and actually “cooked” inside the can….it was an interesting thing to see…the process belt was 20 foot wide and flowed by so fast…it was like watching a stream of water….they produce a LOT of it in that ctory!!

  3. To the Right of Atilla the Hun

    While I do not like Spam, I’m fairly sure that the term “Shelf Life” does not apply to Spam. ‘Half Life’ would be the proper term. I would estimate that to be about 600 years! For just a very few pennies more per .oz one can buy DAK canned hams.
    Bill, you will be in my prayers. Sarcasm off. ; )

  4. I have a couple of can that have Best Buy dates of May 2015, and another Aug 2016.

    I’m going to eat all three of them because I don’t like to waste.

    Spam Musubi, Span Fried Rice, Spam and Eggs, and Portuguese Bean Soup with Spam. I’m gonna live like a king…

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