Knowing how to open the can is half the battle. Here’s how to store leftover black beans, and how long they’ll keep.
So you made black bean chili, but you didn’t get to use up all of the beans in the can. Or maybe you cooked the black beans yourself, but you made one black bean too many—and now you’re wondering how long they’ll keep.
Whatever brought you here, I take it you want to know two things: First, how should you store black beans? Second, how long will they keep with each storage method?
So let’s waste no more time on introductions and help you get to the answer.
How Long Do Black Beans Last?
The shelf life of black beans depends on how you store them. Whether you cooked the beans yourself or bought them from the canned foods aisle at your local grocery store, use the rules of thumb below as a guide.
Black beans keep for 1-2 hours when left out and 3-4 days when refrigerated. Although frozen black beans stay safe to eat indefinitely, they only retain their best aroma and flavor for 9-12 months.
Unopened canned beans retain their best smell, taste, and mouthfeel for 2 to 3 years, depending on the storage conditions. They will stay safe to eat for longer than that.
Throw away rusty, bulging, and badly dented cans. If the airtight seal has been broken, the pathogenic bacterium Clostridium botulinum can enter the food and produce botulinum, the deadly toxin that causes botulism.
When Left to Sit Out
Cooked beans shouldn’t be left on the stovetop, countertop, or dining table for more than 1 to 2 hours. Otherwise, they can be overgrown by harmful bacteria and cause food poisoning when eaten.
Disease-causing bacteria, called pathogens, grow the fastest in the temperature range from 40°F (4.4°C) to 140°F (60°C). A few germs in your bowl of black beans can’t do much—but a few thousand can cause potentially life-threatening foodborne illnesses.
If you’ve cooked more black beans than you and your family can eat in a single meal, cool them and refrigerate them immediately after cooking. Don’t let leftovers sit out on the table for long for the same reasons.
When Kept in the Fridge
Continuously refrigerated and kept in an airtight food storage container or jar with a tight-fitting lid, black beans will keep for 3 to 4 days.
Canned black beans can be refrigerated in the can that they came in, but transferring them to a glass jar or food storage container made of food-grade plastic before storing them in the fridge will help them stay fresh.
If the beans contain tomato sauce, don’t store them in the can; the acidity of the tomatoes may cause some of the metal to leach out and give the beans a metallic, “tinny” taste.
When Stored in the Freezer
Technically, frozen black beans stay safe to eat forever because germs can’t grow in food that’s frozen at 0°F (-8°C) or below. But freezing takes its toll on the black beans, and their aroma, flavor, and texture eventually degrade.
Don’t freeze canned beans in the can that they came in. Instead, pour them into a freezer bag or freezer container before putting them in the freezer, where they will keep their best quality for 9-12 months.
How to Tell If Black Beans Have Gone Bad
Two types of bacteria grow in black beans (and food in general) as they age: spoilage bacteria and pathogenic bacteria.
Spoilage bacteria give the black beans a disgusting smell, taste, and texture, but they’re generally harmless. Pathogenic bacteria, on the other hand, cause food poisoning. And the thing is that we can’t see them, smell them, or taste them.
This means that we can tell when food is spoiled, but not necessarily when it has become inedible. However, since spoilage and pathogenic bacteria can coexist, we can conclude that if a food is spoiled, it may also cause food poisoning.
This yields the following food safety rules regarding black beans:
If you’ve kept cooked black beans for more than 1-2 hours at room temperature or 3-4 days in the fridge, discard them; you have no way of telling whether they’re still safe to eat or not.
If cooked black beans begin to mold, smell bad, or look slimy, throw them away. Never taste canned black beans that look spoiled or you risk contracting botulism.