Canned pork, also known as tinned pork, is a type of meat that has been processed and sealed in an airtight container. This preservation technique allows canned pork to be shelf-stable and safe to eat for extended periods of time without refrigeration. But an important question consumers may have is – is canned pork fully cooked and safe to eat right out of the can?
The Canning Process
To understand if canned pork is fully cooked, it helps to first look at how it is processed and canned. Pork destined for canning goes through the following steps:
- Selected cuts of pork like ham, spam, or pork shoulders are first trimmed of excess fat, bone, and cartilage.
- The pork then goes through a thermal processing method to fully cook it. This involves cooking the meat to an internal temperature of at least 160°F.
- After cooking, the pork is sealed into cans while still hot. Canning jars or metal cans are filled with the cooked pork, along with any liquid, seasonings, or preservatives.
- The filled cans are then sealed shut and subjected to more heat. The cans may be placed in pressurized steam heat (250°F for at least 10 minutes), boiled in water for 90-100 minutes, or processed in an oven or retort to sterilize the contents.
- The final step is cooling the canned pork. As the cans cool, the vacuum seal is formed. This removes oxygen from inside the can, preventing spoilage.
As we can see, the canning process involves fully cooking the pork to a safe internal temperature before sealing in the can. The additional sterilization steps further ensure any harmful microbes are eliminated.
In the United States, the canning of meat products like pork must meet regulations set by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). As per FSIS Directive 7230.1, canned pork must adhere to the following requirements:
- Pork must be heated to 160°F minimum internal temperature or above before canning.
- Canned pork must have a minimum 12% protein.
- Cans must maintain a vacuum of at least 10 inches of mercury.
- No pathogens may be present, and the product must pass stabilitation requirements.
These requirements from the FSIS confirm that commercially canned pork products in the US are fully cooked to a safe temperature before canning and do not contain any live pathogens.
Pre-cooked vs. Raw Pork
It is important to distinguish fully cooked, commercially canned pork from dishes like raw pork or undercooked pork that are then canned at home. Canning raw or undercooked pork at home carries risks:
- Trichinosis – Caused by the parasite Trichinella spiralis, which can infect undercooked pork. It is killed at 137°F.
- Toxoplasmosis – Caused by Toxoplasma gondii parasite, which is killed at 145°F.
- Salmonella – Bacteria is killed at 145°F.
- Listeria – Bacteria is killed at 165°F.
Home canning of raw pork to be cooked later is therefore not recommended. All commercial canned pork, however, is fully cooked before sealing in the can.
Appearance of Fully Cooked Canned Pork
When opening a can of fully cooked pork, you may notice:
- Solid pink color throughout – This indicates it is cooked through.
- Brown edges or ends – Result of caramelization during cooking.
- White coagulation – Denatured protein, safe to eat.
- Lack of juices – Juices can evaporate during canning.
So the cooked pork may look different from its raw pinkish color but rest assured it is safe to consume straight from the can.
Nutrition of Canned Pork
Canned pork is nutritious and a good source of protein, vitamins, and minerals:
|Per 3oz Serving
|% Daily Value*
*Based on a 2000 calorie diet
Canned pork provides an impressive 36% of the daily value for protein in just a 3oz portion. It also contains vitamins and minerals like potassium, iron, zinc, thiamin, selenium, and vitamin B12.
Storage Times for Canned Pork
The shelf-stable nature of commercially canned pork allows it to keep for years. Here are some general guidelines on how long properly canned pork lasts:
- Unopened canned ham or spam – 2 to 5 years.
- Unopened canned pork shoulders or sausage – 2 to 3 years.
- After opening – 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.
Always inspect cans before consumption – look for bulging, rust, or leaks which can indicate spoiled contents. Also pay attention to expiration or use-by dates printed on the can. But commercially canned pork has a long shelf life of multiple years due to the thorough cooking process and vacuum seal.
Taste and Texture
The canning process can affect the final taste, texture, and appearance of pork:
- Taste – Canned pork has a saltier flavor profile due to added sodium and brines used in canning. The meat also takes on flavors from any broths, seasonings or preservatives added.
- Texture – Cooked pork sealed in cans has a softer, more tender texture versus fresh pork. The absence of air in the can prevents the meat drying out.
- Color – As mentioned, fully cooked canned pork can turn from pink to tan or brown hues which is normal.
So while canned pork may look and taste different from fresh, rest assured it is safe, cooked pork due to the canning process.
Common Types of Canned Pork
Some common varieties of canned, fully cooked pork include:
- Spam – Made from chopped pork shoulder and ham. Known for its salty taste and long shelf life.
- Canned ham – Made from cured and smoked pork leg. Available fully cooked.
- Canned pork shoulder – Economical choice made from shoulder cuts.
- Canned sausage – Fully cooked sausage sealed into cans.
- Potted meat – Made from mechanically separated pork pressed into cans.
- Canned bacon – Fully cooked bacon sealed in cans.
All these canned pork products are cooked to required safe temperatures during the canning process.
Some well-known brands of pre-cooked canned pork include:
- Spam – Hormel, Tulip, Treet
- Ham – DAK, Hereford, Wolf Brand
- Shoulder – Libby’s, Hytop, Duke’s
- Sausage – Armour Star, Hormel
How to Use Canned Pork
Because canned pork is already fully cooked, it can be used in recipes or eaten right out of the can. Here are some serving ideas:
- Slice spam and pan fry for breakfast sandwiches
- Cube canned ham for salads, pizza, pasta, or fried rice
- Make deviled ham spread from mashed canned ham
- Add canned sausage crumbles to soups, chili, or casseroles
- Potted meat spread on sandwiches or crackers
Canned pork needs no additional cooking unless you wish to brown it for enhanced texture and flavor.
Try These Recipes
To take advantage of canned pork’s convenience, try these easy recipes:
Spam Fried Rice
Ingredients: 2 cups cooked rice, 1 cup diced spam, 1 cup frozen peas and carrots, 2 eggs, soy sauce.
- Cook rice according to package directions.
- While rice cooks, pan fry diced spam over medium heat until brown.
- Add peas and carrots and continue cooking 2-3 minutes.
- Push mixture to sides of the pan and scramble eggs in the center until cooked.
- Add cooked rice and soy sauce. Toss everything together until combined and heated through.
Creamy Canned Ham Pasta
Ingredients: 8oz pasta, 1 cup diced ham, 1/2 cup cream cheese, 1/4 cup milk, salt and pepper.
- Cook pasta according to package directions.
- In a pan, heat diced ham over medium heat for 2-3 minutes.
- Reduce heat and stir in cream cheese and milk. Heat through until combined and creamy.
- Drain pasta and add to cream sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
Buying and Storing Canned Pork
Follow these tips for buying and storing canned pork:
- Check condition – Avoid cans with bulges, leaks, or major dents.
- Read the label – Ensure the ingredients are pork and the can is unopened.
- Mind the date – Check expiration date and do not use canned pork more than 2-5 years past the packaging date depending on type.
- Store in pantry – Keep canned pork in a cool, dry cupboard or pantry away from heat sources.
- Refrigerate after opening – Once opened, keep canned pork refrigerated and use within 3-4 days.
Precautions for Certain Populations
While commercially canned pork is fully cooked and safe for the general public, some special precautions apply for higher risk groups:
- Infants – Avoid feeding canned pork to infants under 12 months old due to higher risk of food poisoning.
- Pregnant women – Should avoid undercooked meat including raw canned pork made at home due to risk of toxoplasmosis.
- Immune compromised – People with weakened immune systems should reheated canned pork to 165°F to reduce risk of illness.
- Sodium restricted diets – Canned pork is high in sodium so limit portion sizes if on a low sodium diet.
To summarize, commercially canned pork like spam, ham and shoulder is fully cooked during the canning process. This heating of the pork to at least 160°F eliminates any pathogens or parasites that may be present in raw pork. Additional sterilization of the sealed cans further ensures the safety of canned pork products. While the canning process affects the final look and taste, canned pork is perfectly safe to eat straight from the can without cooking it further. However, it is still important to follow safe storage times and check for spoilage before consuming. For most people, enjoying the convenience of quick pre-cooked canned pork is both safe and delicious.