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I bought a can of chicken (chunk white meat) a while back. Because I wasn't "deliberately shopping for groceries" (I was at the store returning bottles for deposit, but had earlier realized my meal plans were short by one can of chicken), that was all I bought, and as a result, I ended up tossing it in the glove box and forgetting about it for about a week.

When I finally brought it in, it was rather warm, and presumably had been heating and cooling every day it was left in the car.

Is it still safe to eat? Obviously, if it was something that would normally be refrigerated, the answer would be a very emphatic "no", but being canned, it has already been cooked to death and (at least in theory) sealed into a sterile environment, and doesn't need to be kept refrigerated. (Note: the can is not bulging noticeably, which I do know would indicate that it is definitely not safe.)

p.s. I read https://www.stilltasty.com/fooditems/index/16796 but it doesn't say if exposure to higher temperatures is an issue. OTOH, a comment on this question suggests it may have already been exposed to similar conditions.

p.p.s. I don't plan on keeping this around for another 2-3 years; the intention would be to eat it within about a month.

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    When in doubt, Trash it. – Max Aug 25 at 14:28
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    @Max There are certainly circumstances where 'doubt' is subjective, though, and in this case I do think the OP is worrying over nothing. – Onyz Aug 25 at 14:38
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Referencing Shelf-Stable Food Safety, from The Food Safety and Inspection Service in the US.

There are several factors that limit the shelf life of canned foods. First, cans can rust over time. Shipping accidents, where cans fall and dent or are crushed, also cause container problems.

Then there’s can corrosion. In all foods, but especially in high-acid foods like canned tomatoes, natural chemicals in the food continually react with the container. Over several years, this can cause taste and texture changes, and eventually lower the nutritional value of the food.

High temperatures (over 100 °F) are harmful to canned goods too. The risk of spoilage jumps sharply as storage temperatures rise. In fact, canned goods designed for use in the tropics are specially manufactured.

The exact determination here depends on exactly how hot the interior of your glovebox was getting on particularly hot days, but that's impossible to know. Personally, I doubt that the temperature ever reached dangerous levels and would just enjoy my can of chicken.

However, you may have different tolerance for risk levels than I would, so I hope that the information I've provided is sufficient for you to make a decision of your own. The absolute 0% risk determination would be to simply throw it away. It's your choice.

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    Just use common sense. If the can isn't damaged (for example the ends aren't bulging), the contents look OK and smell OK, and if you cook them thoroughly (rather than just warming them up a bit to kick any bacteria back into life) eating the contents won't do you any serious harm. – alephzero Aug 25 at 22:44
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    Note that it's really easy for a car outside in the sun to hit 100F inside. It totally depends on the weather conditions. 80F and sunny? I wouldn't chance it for a $4 can of chicken. But my appetite (bada-bing) for risk on these things is low. – T.J. Crowder Aug 26 at 12:05
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    An average car parked for an hour in average sun will reach about 47C (116F) inside. A dark car left longer and in hotter sun can reach in excess of 80C (180F). – J... Aug 26 at 12:34
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    @alephzero But I've read that if you're dealing with botulism, heating won't do anything to get rid of the toxins produced by the bacteria, which is what harms you anyway, and I believe is the big concern with canned goods. So I'm not sure heating it up is any insurance against food born illness in this case. If it's tainted with botulism, you'll still get sick/die, even if you heat it. – bob Aug 26 at 15:09
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    @bob That’s not true. Botulinum toxin is readily destroyed at boiling temperatures. – Sneftel Aug 26 at 20:58
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You know canned food isn't supposed to be stored in hot environments. A week of hot/cold cycles is way too much. It's actually temperature shock (extreme changes) which can quicken spoilage of many things that are otherwise "stable" by the way. There are people who died horribly painful deaths after eating a meal they left out too long for just 1 day. Think about it.

On the point of temperature shock: "Inappropriate storage temperatures or fluctuations in storage temperature are the most avoidable causes of spoilage" -- Understanding poultry products spoilage

If you think temperature cycles in your car will "reset" the safety of food each day as it cycles through temperatures: "Some bacteria, such as staphylococcus (staph) and Bacillus cereus, produce toxins not destroyed by high cooking temperatures. Refrigerate perishable foods within 2 hours in a refrigerator temperature of 40 degrees or below." -- Food Safety Myths, Washington State Dept. of Health.. So actually the food could be becoming more deadly the longer it is in there as toxins accumulate.

"Yes, heat is the enemy of all canned goods. Food stored in cans will spoil quickly if exposed to high temperatures, especially over 95 degrees F. It's best to store all your food in a temperature controlled environment that is kept at or below 70 degrees F." -- Does Canned Food Go Bad in the Heat?

On a side note I've done experiments myself with food preservatives and observed that when food is stored in conditions that minimize how suddenly temperature changes it will be preserved much longer than otherwise. Not that you have to take my word for it.

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    Got any sources for your claims? – Mark Aug 26 at 20:51
  • @Mark I've added some notes. – HenryM Aug 27 at 17:48
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    Those sources have good food storage/spoilage info, but they don't address anything specific to canned foods. – Nuclear Hoagie Aug 27 at 19:06
  • @NuclearWang I honestly thought that canned food going bad at high temp was too obvious to need a cite but i've added one! – HenryM Aug 27 at 19:11

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