How Long Does Canned Food Last: 12 Helpful Guides to Canning

Who doesn’t love a ready-made bowl of canned spaghetti1? Canned foods make life much more convenient as they’re cheap, help save time, and last for long periods. So, if you can’t go to the store, are burdened with work, or are just too tired, stock up on canned foods.

They’re a much-needed add-on to your fridge in case of an emergency. From vegetables and fruits to ready-made meals, anything can be canned. Canning these foods is a good option, as this way foods have a long shelf life.

But exactly how long is too long? How long does canned food last? Are these foods still edible past their expiration dates? Read on to find out.

1. What Is the Process of Canning Food?

how long does canned food last : process of canning
Image by Jaymethunt from Pixabay

We all know that bacteria need oxygen to grow. But how is that related to the process of canning? Canning takes advantage of that fact by using air-tight containers to keep all bacteria away from food. In this process, the food is reheated and then sealed in a can, thus killing bacteria and preventing them from growing.

These containers work well in storing food and keeping it safe to eat. They act as a messiah saving food from evil bacteria.

Canned foods as old as 100 years have been found in ship wreckage, and guess what? They didn’t have any bacterial growth! We’re not saying that you can eat from a can that is a hundred years old, though. So, what is the general shelf life of canned foods past which their quality is ruined?

If you want to know how long canned food last on the shelf, check its expiration date. This is the shelf life of most canned foods according to credible sources:

2. Shelf Life of Canned Foods

How Long Does Canned Food Last?  Survival Tip

Generally, canned foods have a shelf life of 1-5 years. However, it varies for different foods.

How long does canned food last if it has high acid content? For high-acid foods like canned tomatoes, lemons, pickles, and various other fruits, the shelf life is 12 to 18 months. On the other hand, low-acid foods such as canned meats, vegetables, pasta, and soup last for much longer periods. They have a shelf life of 2-5 years!

Once you open these cans, they last for a much shorter time. Low-acid foods like canned vegetables will last only 3-4 days in the fridge, whereas high-acid foods will last for 5-7 days. If there is no power, then canned foods might go bad.

3. Are They Still Good for Use Past Their Expiration Dates?

Understanding the Dates on Food Labels: Are Canned Goods Safe After the Expiration Date?

Technically, yes. Canned foods are still good after their expiration date. The “best by” date on the container indicates how long the canned food will retain its quality. So if a container says that food is good for 8 months, that doesn’t mean it will expire after that. This just means that it might change in colour, quality, or taste in 8 months, but there is no cause for alarm. Safety concerns do arise, however, when the can is even slightly dented or opened and spilling.

Now you know how long canned food lasts in any storage condition. But does it really “last”? Is it in perfect condition for healthy usage? Here’s how you can tell.

4. Can You Tell if Your Food Has Gone Bad?

Signs That Your Canned Food Is BAD

You can usually check whether the food is good past its expiration date by opening and smelling it. If it has any rust or mould growth, discard it immediately.

Can you see dents on the can? Small dents are not a cause for concern. However, if it is deep enough to fit your finger into it, it is probably deep enough for bacteria to enter. So watch out for deep dents.

Rust is also a red flag. We say this because if the rust is severe, it can affect the exterior of the can, thus allowing bacteria to enter. If you can’t wipe it away, throw it away.

Also, watch out for bulges because they may be caused by a unique type of bacteria that can breathe in oxygen.

We believe that if there’s a shadow of a doubt, there’s a cause for alarm. So say bye-bye before your food goes bye-bye!

5. How To Store Canned Goods, so They Don’t Go Bad?

how long does canned food last: storing cans the right way
Image by Filmbetrachter from Pixabay

Canned foods should ideally be stored in a cupboard or pantry when left unopened. The storage conditions should be cool and dry. Any amount of heat or moisture can ruin the quality of the food. So don’t store it in or near places with extreme temperatures, like a stove.

The ideal temperature for storing canned foods is 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit or 10-20 degrees Celsius. The USDA Complete Guide says that keeping canned foods within the optimal temperature range helps maintain the quality of the food by keeping it at 80 per cent.

6. Food Safety vs. Quality

How long does canned food last after its expiration date? At least a few more months. However, even if food is safe to eat after its expiration date, it might have lost its quality and/or nutritional value over time. Food has lost its quality because of its freshness, smell, taste, and aesthetic appeal.

That’s why food quality matters just as much as food safety. Food might be safe but could have lost its overall quality and taste.

7. Canning at Home

Home Canning 101 Video

That’s right; you can practice canning food at home too!

Did you buy too many veggies today? Or is your garden overflowing with luscious tomatoes? Are you worried that they will go bad? In that case, could you not throw them out? Put these veggies and fruits in cans or jars. This will increase their shelf life and decrease your wastage.

Canning is a great home food preservation method 2as it kills bacteria effectively. It is also very convenient and easy to make home-canned foods:

8. What Are Home-Canned Foods?

how long does canned food last: home canning
Image by Alina Kuptsova from Pixabay

Home canning is a method of food preservation at home by packing foods such as fruits, vegetables, and meats into jars instead of cans. These jars are heated to prevent bacteria from entering and ruining the food.

To put it in simple terms, home canning is canning food at home, but with jars instead of cans.

A variety of foods can be home-canned to prevent spoilage. From jams and jellies to meat and poultry, almost everything can be preserved at home by canning. This helps retain the best quality of food.

9. How Long Does Canned Food Last if It Has Been Home-Canned?

Shelf Life of Home Canning

Home-canned foods have similar rules for shelf life as commercially canned foods do.

One simple rule is that you follow proper food preservation methods, as mentioned in the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning. If you preserve these foods under the right conditions, they will easily last for 5 years or more, but we do recommend that you use them within 1-2 years of canning. During this time, they will retain their best quality.

However, the rules differ for different foods. Have you ever wondered how long does canned food last if it is high in acid?

High-acid foods also have a shorter shelf life in cases of home-canned foods. Those juicy oranges that bloomed from your garden and the pickles you made to eat with burgers are both foods that risk going bad. They might last for a maximum of one year.

On the other hand, low-acid canned foods such as pasta, meat, etc. have a longer shelf life. You can store them for 1-5 years.

10. Canning at Home vs. Buying Store-Canned Goods

The REAL Difference -- Store-Bought vs Home Canned Foods

When deciding your meal for the day, what do you usually prefer? Buying commercially canned food helps save time and effort, but home canning saves money. Which is better? Here are some advantages and disadvantages of both of these options to help you decide:

11. Pros and Cons of Home Canning

Imagine making your favourite jam and then storing it in a jar. You love the fresh smell of berries combined with that perfect homemade touch whenever you eat it. It certainly has the best taste, doesn’t it?

11.1. Home-Canning Foods Like Jams Have Many Advantages

Home canning will also cost less than buying canned foods from the store. It is an eco-friendly process. It involves using reusable glass jars3 instead of plastic cans where commercially canned foods are stored.

In addition to saving money, you’ll also save your health. Home canning is the best option for families who want fresh and homemade food for their kids.

Another advantage is that you can make endless combinations of yummy foods and delicious treats for your kids! You can make jams, jellies, etc., and store them for as long as possible. Once you’ve learned how to practice home canning, the sky is your limit.

11.2. Disadvantages

However, one major disadvantage is that home-canned foods have a shorter shelf life than commercially canned foods and dehydrated or freeze-dried foods. Most home-canned foods might lose their quality after 1-2 years.

Another con is that home canning will take up much of your time. If you’re knee-deep in assignments and work pressures, home canning is probably not for you.

12. Pros and Cons of Buying Commercially Canned Food

Are you constantly travelling? Can’t find time to make food? Store-bought cans are your best bet.

Commercially canned food lasts longer than home-canned foods without going bad. They generally have a shelf life of 5 years or more, whereas home-canned foods are best used between 1 and 2 years.

Another advantage of commercially canned food is that you don’t have to put in any time and effort to use it! You could have a thousand responsibilities on your head, and it’s great to take a break sometimes. Commercially canned food can help you as a backup on those days when you’re too tired, stressed, or want to take a break.

One con is that stocking up on cans can be more expensive than home canning. The cost of buying one can is not high, but completely depending on commercial cans might burn a hole in your pocket.

Commercially canned food also doesn’t retain its nutritional value much as freeze-dried or home-canned food. At least one-third of the nutrients are destroyed in the heating that occurs during the canning process, whereas freeze-drying helps preserve these nutrients.

13. Bottom Line

After reading this, which do you think is better suited to your needs? We recommend home canning for households with kids or people passionate about cooking4. Pick commercially canned food if you don’t have too much time on your hands or as a backup for those days when you need a break.

Whether home canning or buying commercially canned foods, you can’t go wrong with this simple preservation technique. It certainly makes foods last much longer without ruining their quality and maintaining food safety.

Canning is a great method for times when you want to avoid wastage. It is much more effective in killing harmful bacteria and other microorganisms. Your food will also retain its delicious flavour and attractive colour if you buy or store it in cans. Canned food can also last indefinitely, given that you store it well.

So, what are you waiting for? Say, “Yes, I can.” (Pun intended).

14. Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. Can You Eat 40-Year-Old Canned Food?

Text-stable canned goods are not safe for a specified period of time, up to five years, according to the USDA.

Q2. Can Home-Canned Food Last 20 Years?

As a rule of thumb, the shelf life of unopened home canned foods should be between one and two years. Commercially canned foods should maintain their best quality until they can expire. This date is usually 2-5 years from the date of manufacture.

Q3. Why Can Canned Food Last So Long?

All of the microorganisms in the food are now dead, and therefore cannot feed on, multiply, and degrade sugars or other nutrients. Because the can is sealed, no new live microorganisms can enter. Food prepared this way can sit at room temperature for more than a year without spoiling.

  1. Donnelly, Brendan J. “Pasta regrinds: Effect on spaghetti quality.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 28.4 (1980): 806-809. ↩︎
  2. Leistner, Lothar. “Basic aspects of food preservation by hurdle technology.” International journal of food microbiology 55.1-3 (2000): 181-186. ↩︎
  3. Postacchini, Leonardo, et al. “Reuse of honey jars for healthier bees: Developing a sustainable honey jars supply chain through the use of LCA.” Journal of Cleaner Production 177 (2018): 573-588. ↩︎
  4. Kaufmann, Jean-Claude. The meaning of cooking. Polity, 2010. ↩︎

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Prisha Gera

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