Anchovies, tinned or in glass, is sometimes kept and sold cold. I don't see that happen with other foods. Is there a food safety reason for this? If so, does it mean that they also need to be kept refrigerated after purchase even if unopened?

The only reason I can think of is Botulism, because they can't be pressure heated because they would break? Is that so?

  • 2
    Can you post a particular brand? A picture of the label would be helpful. Canned hams are sometimes labeled "keep refrigerated" because they are pasteurized, not sterilized. In those cases, they are clearly labeled. That is the only canned item I can think of that isn't shelf stable, but I'm sure there are more.
    – Jolenealaska
    Jan 26, 2016 at 13:01
  • I will see what I can do. But I am pretty sure the lable says nothing special
    – Marc Luxen
    Jan 26, 2016 at 13:08
  • Maybe the stores are afraid of making Surströmming if they don't have good turn-over ?
    – Joe
    Jan 26, 2016 at 15:07
  • @MarcLuxen Surstomming is a fermented fish dish served traditionally in Sweden. Jan 26, 2016 at 17:07

2 Answers 2


I found this very informative article from the Crown Prince company, an anchovy canner and distributor. Apparently the reason for cold storage has to do with the preservation process and product quality:

Anchovy Handling

Anchovies are a "semi-preserved" product. This means that they are not sterilized by either cooking or pasteurization. Instead, anchovies are preserved by a salting process whereby salt is used to control bacteria which would otherwise render a canned product unusable.

The anchovies remain in the salt until just before canning. Therefore, suppliers do not pack ahead of order. Our anchovies are not packed until just prior to shipment.

Because they are "semi-preserved", anchovies will eventually break down and become mushy. The cans may even puff. This occurs because there is a non-harmful bacteria that survives in salt. This bacteria can be inconvenient because when it grows it can eventually form a gas which will puff the can. We repeat that this is not harmful to humans, but is most inconvenient.

Heat will hasten the growth of the non-harmful bacteria. Anchovies should always be stored in a cool place, preferably in the refrigerator. Their shelf life when refrigerated is about 18 months. If you do not plan on consuming the anchovies or paste immediately after purchasing, we recommend storing them in the refrigerator. It is important to note that puffed anchovy cans are not indicative of a faulty canning procedure, but rather of improper storage subsequent to canning.

Occasionally, customers complain of a white substance in the can. Often, salt collects around the edges of the fish. This is harmless, as it is only salt.

  • Sounds like if you're not going to wait 18 months to eat them, the refrigeration is overkill.
    – Cascabel
    Jan 26, 2016 at 20:24
  • 1
    If you call the canner/distributor's recommendation "overkill". :-) It sounds like for the best possible freshness (and not-mushiness), it's recommended to keep the can chilled, though there is no "danger" in not storing it cool, just degradation of product quality. Jan 26, 2016 at 20:38
  • @KristinaLopez I'm just saying that if you're going to eat them within a week or two, and your place is ~70F, there's really no need to take fridge space - there won't be any loss of freshness or quality over that short of a period. Absolutely, if you're storing them long-term, use the fridge. (For the record, I too think that this is a better answer than Jolene's - but that does not change the fact that her answer is also an answer.)
    – Cascabel
    Jan 27, 2016 at 1:24
  • Catija also made a great point in chat: their caution says that heat is problematic, and doesn't actually say how cool is necessary. They might just mean "not hot". So it might well be that a cool room temperature is just fine even for long-term storage. And grocery stores usually are kept relatively cool, so there may be no reason for them to sell them cold.
    – Cascabel
    Jan 29, 2016 at 17:21
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    @KristinaLopez By "they" I meant Crown Prince. The 50-60F thing would be worth citing in your answer; it's a lot more clear and specific than Crown Prince was (which is what led to my "how cool is necessary?" comment).
    – Cascabel
    Feb 1, 2016 at 20:55

All anchovies I have ever seen in cans or jars are shelf stable. There is no reason to sell them cold unless there is a consumer preference for them to be sold that way. I have never seen canned or jarred anchovies in the cooler (US). There may be brands sold elsewhere that are not shelf stable, but they should be labeled as such, particularly since canned items are generally expected to be shelf stable.

Of the dozens of brands of anchovies sold on Amazon, most of which are from Italy, Spain or Morocco, all are shelf stable.

EDIT: The accepted answer points out something that I didn't know, and it appears that anchovies that are going to be held long term do benefit from being kept at lower than room temperature.

  • To the moderator's point, it is an answer, but the lack of cited source makes it more of an opinion that though shared by other high-score users - doesn't necessarily make right. I guess I'm more accustomed to different sites where a cited source trumps opinion and where comments that are question-related are kept conveniently with the question and answers and aren't wisked away inconveniently to the chat room, never to be seen again. Thanks for your ear! :-) Jan 26, 2016 at 21:52
  • @Jolenealaska, to your edited point, a quick check on details of those Amazon listings have a note related to ideal temperature for storage and (in the case of the Roland brand anchovies, for one) they recommend: "Semi-conserved product the anchovies need to be stored at a consistent temperature of 50 to 60 degrees". My pantry is not a consistent temperature of 50-60 degrees so I would have to consider a temperature controlled environment like my refrigerator. Jan 26, 2016 at 22:31
  • I've never seen unrefrigerated anchovies in Spain (yet eggs are never refrigerated, contrary to the US, for other reasons).
    – jinawee
    Mar 21, 2022 at 19:44

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