Canned food in jars or vacuum packed cans are an important part of any pantry or stockpile. Although you should eat all of your food before best by and expiration dates, sometimes you want to know whether a can of food, particularly home canned food, is safe to consume.
So, how long will canned food last if stored properly? If stored in the correct environment, cans or jars (whether they are store-bought or canned at home) high acidic foods will last 12 to 18 months, while low-acidic foods will last between 2 and 5 years.
To be more exact, the food storage chart on the USDA website tells us:
|FOOD||STORAGE ON SHELF|
|Canned ham (shelf-stable)||2 to 5 years|
|Low-acid canned goods. Examples:|
canned meat and poultry, stews, soups
(except tomato), spaghetti (noodle and
pasta) products, potatoes, corn, carrots,
spinach, beans, beets, peas, pumpkin.
|2 to 5 years|
|High-acid canned goods. Examples:|
juices (tomato, orange, lemon, lime
and grapefruit); tomatoes; grapefruit,
pineapple, apples and apple products,
mixed fruit, peaches, pears, plums, all
berries, pickles, sauerkraut and foods
treated with vinegar-based sauces or
dressings like German potato salad and
|12 to 18 months|
|Home canned foods||12 months. Before using,|
boil 10 minutes for high-acid
foods; 20 minutes for low-acid
Storing and Opening Cans
Knowing the proper storage methods can help keep food fresh for years past USDA regulations. In fact, the USDA itself admits canned food may be safe to consume past that point.
Although eating from a sealed container seems simple, there are small mistakes anyone can make. Don’t let this happen to you.
Don’t keep canned food in heat, because it will decay faster. The ideal storage temperature is 50 F to 70 F (10 C to 21 C). Find a place that is both dry and cool to store it.
Moisture will rust the lid, so make sure you have a plan around this, especially if you live in a humid climate. Use a fan in a muggy basement or buy a dehumidifier. Do not eat from cans that are bulging or dented.
Label jars with the canned or purchased date. Eat the oldest ones first.
Signs That Canned Food Has Rotted
The Can Lid is Popped or Cracked
The most obvious sign is if the lid itself has popped open. Of course, any physical impact may cause a rupture in the metallic storage. However, natural chemical reactions inside the food can also cause a lid to rupture. If a lid is popped up or dented, do not eat the can’s contents.
There are Streaks of Dry Food on the Can
Look for dried food streaks. This is a sign of a rupture, either from physical or chemical cause. If you find that streak comes from the top of the can, don’t eat the food. It is decayed.
Fungus is On the Lid
When you open a can, always make sure to check the lid. It will be tempting in an emergency scenario when you are hungry, to just open it up and start eating. Don’t do this. Always check for mold on the lid or bubbles in the syrup as signs that mold has infected the food.
The Food Pops Out When the Can is Opened
The food should also remain relatively still upon popping open the can. If it jumps right out when you expose it to air, this is a sign that a chemical reaction has begun in the food. Check for liquidation in this scenario as well to make sure.
Odor and Color
Above all, use your senses. If the food smells off, don’t eat it. If the food has drastically changed color, don’t eat it. This is especially true if the syrup or brine has turned muddy or opaque.
Don’t underestimate botulism. If you think, canned food may be bad don’t take the risk. It can be fatal. Although botulism isn’t a problem with commercial cans of food, it is a big one for home canned food.
This is why it’s important to always follow the canning recipe to the letter, as well as the additional instructions for using the jars, lids and other equipment. Also check the USDA home canning guidelines here.
A Somewhat Extreme Example…
In 1865, the steamboat Bertrand sunk to the bottom of the Missouri river while attempting to reach Montana. A century later, the vessel was found with canned goods including mixed vegetables, plum tomatoes, brandied peaches, and oysters in its cargo.
In 1974, a chemist at the National Food Processors Association tested the food for nutrient value and bacterial infection. It was determined that, even though it wasn’t visually appealing, it was safe to eat one hundred years after the original wreck. A great deal of vitamin A and C was lost, but most protein and calcium remained.
Now, this is an extreme example. Use common sense. If food smells bad, tastes bad, and has lost its color- don’t force yourself to eat it. Find a better option.
Whenever you open a can of food, whether expired or not, you definitely want to make sure it is safe to eat. Don’t let the expiration date scare you, because canned food typically lasts longer than that… but do pay close attention to the can and the produce inside before consumption.