If you’re like most of us, you’ve got a pantry full of canned food.
From black beans to pickled items, sauces, and beyond, canned food is convenient, delicious, and the perfect addition to your pattern of fresh cooking.
But how long does canned food really last? What really is the shelf life and is it safe to eat?
Before you start tossing out your “expired” cans, it’s smart to learn the basics of canned food, and how long you can expect it to stay good. There might be more to the expiration date than you think especially if it was commercially canned foods vs. home canned foods.
5 Top Benefits Of Canned Food
Whether you’re keeping canned food on hand for convenience or to have an emergency store of food to get you through a power outage or natural disaster, here are some of the biggest benefits of canned food:
1. Long Shelf Life
Some canned foods last anywhere between 2-25 years (and sometimes more!) Seriously, go and check the expiration date on some of your canned goods and let us know what you find.
This is easily the primary reason for the popularity of canned food and goes to show that, most of the time, there’s no need to toss out your canned goods after a few years. Think food preservation, people!
2. Safe Storage
During a power outage or natural disaster, it’s common for refrigerators and freezers to stop being reliable.
Luckily, canned food can easily be stored anywhere, and you don’t have to worry about insects getting into it. If they are stored in a cool, dry, dark place, the food preservation is even better.
3. Few Preservatives
Surprisingly, all canned foods are not loaded with preservatives.
Some contain additional amounts of salt, oil, or water to preserve foods, but nothing you should worry about.
Always check the label to make sure excessive amounts of salt and sugar have not been added.
In most cases, a simple rinsing prior to consuming can reduce up to 45% of the listed sodium content.
4. Low Cost
Canned foods are significantly cheaper than “fresh” produce and meat.
And because you don’t have to worry about canned food expiring, you won’t waste nearly as much money on food that will eventually spoil in your fridge.
5. Quality Nutrition
You might have already stereotyped canned food as subpar when it comes to nutrition. But canned food is often more nutritional than “fresh” produce at the grocery store.
How is this possible?
Most foods in the produce section were grown in a foreign country or state, stored and shipped, then stored again at the grocery store for several days before you bought it, stored it in your fridge, and eventually ate it. Did your stomach just turn reading that?
Canned foods, on the other hand, are typically processed hours after harvest. This process seals in the freshness and nutritional value.
So How Long Does Canned Food Last?
How long the canned food will last depend on the food in the can and the storage conditions.
According to the US FSIS, “‘Use-by’ dates usually refer to best quality and are not safety dates…
Canned foods are safe indefinitely as long as they are not exposed to freezing temperatures, or temperatures above 90 °F (32.2° C).
If the cans look ok, they are safe to use.”
If you’re worried a canned food item has expired, check for the following signs:
- There is mold or scum on the surface of the food
- The food has an unpleasant smell
- The food tastes musky or old
Home Canned Foods
If you are thinking about doing your own canned goods, it’s important to understand how it works for different types of food. Low acid foods need to be canned differently than high acid foods due to something called a deadly toxin called botulism. Don’t get worried. It is still safe to practice home canning, but you need to make sure you are following food safety guidelines when doing so.
Botulism is a deadly toxin that stems from the bacteria called clostridium botulinum. It produces a deadly toxin in low oxygen environments aka a canned good. It is rare, yet fatal when not diagnosed quickly. When you decide to can home food, make sure you follow the proper precautions when it comes to home canning low acid. The good news is that canning high acid foods is easier because the acid blocks the growth of the bacteria or kills
Home Canning Low Acid Foods
When deciding on your own home canning of low acid foods, The National Center for Home Food Preservation says that any food with a higher pH level than 4.6 should be sterilized using either a pressure canner or a boiling water canner (water bath canner). If you are using a pressure canner, you need to do it at a temperature of 240 to 250 degrees. How long it needs to sterilize is anywhere from 20-100 minutes. If you are using a boiling water canner, how long you need to sterilize the food gets lengthier. You will need to sterilize it anywhere from 7-11 hours. The timing depends on the kind of food being canned, the size of the jars, and the way it is packed into the jars. Once it has been sterilized for long enough, it will be in a good condition with the bacteria killed and long expiration dates.
Home Canning High Acid Foods
To make a high acid food shelf-stable, it does not need the same amount of concern when it comes to botulism because the high acid actually kills the bacteria. The jar still needs to be put in a water bath canner, but it does not need the intensity of a pressure canner nor the longevity of low acid foods. Yay!
Canned foods are the workhorses of your household pantry.
In addition to having a long shelf life, they’re versatile, delicious, and nutritious – perfect for meeting your fitness goals and keeping mealtime easy!
Our team at The Fitness Tribe often collaborates together to produce content. Many times the content is not written by a single author, instead it is usually a team effort.