How Long Does Canned Food Last?

Canned food in jars or vacuum packed cans is an important part of any solid survival plan. When SHTF and society breaks down, food will become an increasingly difficult commodity to come by. Hunting is an option, but not an overly reliable one because a large amount of people will be vying for the same prey.

If you follow the tips in this article, canned food will be there when you need it. Knowing the proper storage methods can help keep food fresh for years past USDA regulations. Although eating from a sealed container seems simple, there are small mistakes any prepper can make. Don’t let this happen to you.

To avoid expired canned food, read the following on storing cans as well as canning advice.

Storing Cansjam jar

Before answering the question of how long cans last, it’s important to discuss the proper way to store them. After all, this greatly affects the shelf life and is the most influential factor to long lasting food.

Proper Storage

The best way to keep canned food fresh is to store it properly. Don’t keep it in heat, because it will decay faster. The ideal storage temperature is 50 degrees to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. 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.

How Long Will Canned Food Last if Stored Properly

If stored in the correct environment, cans or jars will easily last a minimum of 1 year. The USDA sets the shelf life of a can at 2-5 years, slightly less for highly acidic foods. Label jars with the canned or purchased date. Eat the oldest ones first. If done correctly, canned food can last 3-4 times longer than what the USDA recommends.

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. Spoiled food is spoiled food even in a survival scenario, which raises another point on canned food. What exactly, are the signs the contents have rotted?

Signs 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.

Tips on Making Canned Food at Home

Leave a Decent Amount of Headspace in the Can or Jar


There should be a decent amount of headspace. Without it, the jar won’t be able to vacuum seal and food will spoil quickly. Too much headspace, and the food will discolor faster. It is a delicate balance so lean toward too much headspace if you are a novice. Extreme headspace, though, can also affect the seal quality.

Use High Quality Fruits and Vegetables

Just because you are canning them doesn’t mean you don’t need top shelf vegetables. If the base is flawed, no structure will be able to stand. Make sure to also wash, peel, and trim food before beginning the canning process.

Don’t Pack Too Much Food in One Can

Don’t pack too much food, too tightly into the jar. This won’t allow the can to reach a sterile temperature throughout. It will be too difficult for the thick viscous syrup to adapt at its center. Go by USDA regulations on cutting size, temperature, and pressure unless you have a time tested method.

Seal the Lid Immediately After Placing the Food

Microorganisms can very quickly enter the can and ruin your entire project. To fight this, lids need to be placed on the can or jar immediately after the food is placed inside. Even heating the can and going through proper processing won’t be able to get rid of these little buggers if they get in right at the start of the process.

Use the Proper Processing Equipment

Don’t use an open kettle, microwave, or oven to purify your food before putting it in the can. These are simply not hot enough to kill every little bit of bacteria present in the food. Use a pressure canner or a boiling water bath canner.

Cool Food at Room Temperature

As food cools, it pulls water back into it. This water may contain microbes. The more rapid or slow the cooling process, the more chance of this happening. Plus, impatient cooling can cause ruptures in the jar. To avoid this, cool gradually to room temperature- about 72 degrees Fahrenheit.

Don’t Use Paraffin

An old way to seal jars, especially for jams and jellies, was paraffin. This practice has been retired. It simply does not work. If you are still doing this, it could be a problem. Mold will gather on the edges and send mycotoxins throughout the spread. Treat jams and jellies as you would any other food and store them the same.

Always Keep Storage Temperature in Mind

As stated in the beginning of the article, the ideal storage temperature is 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperature at or above 95 degrees are extremely dangerous. Microorganisms create a breeding ground inside the syrup given any amount of time. Make sure you are keeping your jars and cans cool. Keep them out of the sunlight or any damp space.

To Freeze or Not to Freeze

Freezing a jar for longer shelf life is a possibility but not an advisable one. If the seal remains solid, the food won’t spoil. Cracks happen all the time when freezing a jar, though. The food expands when chilled, which will likely puncture a tightly packed jar or can.

This expansion also makes the final result less tasty, which honestly, isn’t the biggest deal in a survival scenario unless you are feeding small children.

Acidic Foods Require Special Care

Watch how you can and store acidic foods as well. Get more information in this article. Pay special attention to these varieties because they can eat away at the lid over time. Keep these as cool as possible. If the lid begins to flake, get rid of it immediately.

Canning Tips for Foods Other than Meat and Vegetables


The best way to store butter long term is to simply freeze it. If you decide you do need to store butter for a longer period of time, it is possible to can it.

Butter has a very high risk of botulism, an extremely dangerous form of food poisoning, that can result from poor canning techniques. The effects of botulism include paralysis and even death. Sterilization and cleanliness are crucial so you can avoid botulism all costs.

Extended Storage of Eggs

Raw eggs covered in petroleum jelly may seem like a quick solution to always having protein at hand. I’ve known a few people that have tried. However, canning this gives no protection against microbial contamination, creating a huge risk of foodborne illness. For more information, please read this article on how to store eggs for the long-term.

Whole-wheat flour, Cereal, Granola, Brown rice, Sesame seeds, Nuts, or Any Bread

There are other ways to store these items using Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers and storing in a cool, dry place. You can dry oven can to seal these items in jars. It works but it is dangerous if jars break and really won’t preserve the food any longer.


Canning can be a great weapon in your arsenal to survive an impending societal breakdown, if done right. Take the answers to these questions to heart. Canning may seem simple, it is, but there are a few mistakes that can have serious consequences.

Food is a basic human need. You should have multiple plans of how to attain it and how to store it safely. This means preparing canned food as well as smoked meats and other long-term food solutions. It’s a good idea to start preparing now. So get cracking and get canning!

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