Canned goods are convenient because they have a long shelf life. You can store them in a cabinet and use them when you need a quick meal or save them for an emergency. But, as with all foods, you should know how long they last to avoid eating food that has spoiled.
Canned Goods Can Spoil
While canned goods don't spoil as quickly as other foods, they can still go bad if you store them improperly. While it's rare for canned food to go bad after one year, it can happen if you store the cans at temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit for a year or more.
The FDA recommends not eating canned food stored at high temperatures or any canned food that shows signs of spoilage such as mold or bulging of the can (which indicates pressure from a leak).
Another situation where canned goods can spoil is if the seal is compromised, allowing bacteria to gain entry to the food. This doesn’t usually happen with canned goods packaged by large companies. It’s more of a risk with home canning.
Home Canning and Botulism Risk
A risk to consider with home canning is botulism poisoning. Around 80% of cases of botulism poisoning happen as a result of consuming foods that were canned at home. Botulism poisoning can occur when the food is not properly canned.
Botulism spores are present in the soil and can contaminate food during the canning process. Improper canning can allow botulism spores to survive and grow, producing a toxin that can cause serious illness or death.
You can’t see or taste botulism toxin and it’s resistant to heat. Therefore, cooking won’t destroy it. Although rare, botulism can be fatal. If you notice that a can looks distorted or misshapen, don’t eat the contents
If you can foods at home, take a course and learn how to do it safely. Also, refer to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Complete Guide to Home Canning. Don’t risk your health!
Store at the Proper Temperature
Always store canned goods in a cool, dry place like a pantry (away from heat sources) or cupboard (away from direct sunlight). Make sure the temperature where you store cans is between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If you're storing your cans in an uninsulated garage or shed with fluctuating temperatures, consider investing in some inexpensive foam insulation panels to ensure optimal storage conditions.
Consider the Acidity
The acidity of a canned affects its shelf life, too. Acidic canned goods—like fruits, tomatoes, and their juices—will last around 18 months, whereas foods with low acidity can last two or three years if you store them properly and keep them away from heat. Discard home-canned goods within a year of canning to be safe. Also, boil home canned goods for at least 10 minutes before using them to eliminate any sources of bacteria.
What About Best-By Dates?
If you are not sure how old your cans are—and especially if they were opened and stored in your fridge—check the best-by date on the container's lid. Some canned goods have printed expiration dates that indicate when the food inside should be used or discarded.
Note that the best-by date is only a guideline for food quality. If you use it past that date, it’s not unsafe, but it may not taste as good. Knowing the best-by date is also a way to keep track of how old your cans are.
Canned foods are generally safe for consumption beyond their best-by date, but you should always use your senses (smell and taste) to ensure that it is still edible.
Generally Good for Two Years
Canned foods are generally safe for two years after their initial packaging date, but it is always best to carefully inspect the can and the food inside before eating the contents. If you see irregularities, do not eat it.
Always Inspect Canned Foods Before Eating
While canned food can be stored for years, you should discard cans that are damaged or dented. A bulging can is a sign that the contents are contaminated and should be discarded. If there are no visible signs of damage to your can of soup or beans, use your senses (smell and taste) to determine whether it is still edible.
If you're unsure whether a canned food is safe to eat, look for these signs that it may be unsafe:
- The can is swollen, dented, rusty, or leaking.
- The food inside is discolored, moldy, or smells bad.
If you see any of these signs, throw the can away and don't eat the food. If you suspect that there may be something wrong with your can's appearance or odor (you'll want to check carefully), throw them away immediately.
- "Home Canning and Botulism | CDC." 24 Jun. 2022, https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/communication/home-canning-and-botulism.html.
- "Safety of Canned Food That Freezes (SP 50-695)." https://extension.oregonstate.edu/food/preservation/safety-canned-food-freezes-sp-50-695.
- "USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning (MORE Recipes, Resources, & Best ...." 30 Oct. 2020, https://winnebago.extension.wisc.edu/2020/10/30/usda-complete-guide-to-home-canning-more-recipes-resources-best-practices/.
- "Is the United State Department of Agriculture Complete Guide to ... - USDA." https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/Is-the-USDA-Complete-Guide-to-Home-Canning-available-online.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.