Canned food can be a convenient and shelf-stable option no matter what kind of food you like.
From meats and broth to fruits and veggies, and even dairy products, there is a canned option ready to buy and, seemingly, ready to eat.
But you may wonder whether it’s safe to eat canned food without cooking it first, especially after it has been on the shelf for a while.
Should you ever eat canned food without cooking it first?
Yes, the majority of canned foods are safe to eat without cooking first. The canning process kills any harmful bacteria and makes the food safe to eat even after a long time in storage.
In addition, cans are typically sealed tightly, preventing new bacteria from entering the food or air from causing decomposition.
As long as the can is not damaged or leaking, it is generally safe to eat the food inside without cooking it first.
While most canned foods are safe to consume without cooking, there are a few exceptions concerning specific products and any canned goods that might be compromised.
Keep reading and this article will tell you everything you need to know on the matter.
Modern Canning Processes Keep Food Safe and Fresh for a Long Time
The canned foods we enjoy today are some of the safest you can buy, and that is thanks to modern factory canning processes.
The canning process is an intricate and carefully-designed system that, at its core, involves cooking and sealing food in airtight containers, such as metal cans or glass jars.
Once sealed, the containers are heated to high temperatures, which does two things:
- It kills off bacteria and other microorganisms which can cause illness or spoil food.
- It also deactivates many of the enzymes responsible for decay.
Additionally, certain preservatives may be added at this stage to further extend shelf life and protect against contamination.
Then, the heated or cooked contents are given a lid and closed with an airtight seal by specialized sealing machines, effectively locking in their flavor and nutrients.
More importantly, this rugged, airtight seal prevents outside contaminants, air and bacteria from entering the can and causing spoilage.
Since the interior of the can or jar is now airtight, free of contamination and sealed, this helps prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and other pathogens.
While there is, as always, a risk that the process might fail, it remains one of the most reliable and effective ways to keep our prepared food safe and fresh while at room temperature for long periods of time.
In fact, without it, many foods that we eat on a daily basis would not even exist at the mass market level.
So next time you enjoy a can of tuna or a jar of salsa, know you’ll have modern canning to thank for it.
Damaged or Dented Cans and Lids May Compromise Canned Food Safety
When you buy canned goods at the store, you can expect that the contents will be fresh and safe to eat as soon as you open them, even many months later.
However, if the can, lid or seal is damaged, it could create an opportunity for bacteria to flourish or other contamination of food.
In addition, damage will likely allow oxygen to enter, which can cause the food to spoil.
Always inspect canned food before you buy them, and check your own supply of canned goods for the following defects:
- Dents, bends or other damage to the can
- Dings or dents on rims, popped safety lids
- Seeping or oily spot
- Bulging sides, tops or bottoms
If you notice any dents or other damage to a can before you open it, it’s best to err on the side of caution and discard it.
While it might seem like a waste, it’s better than taking the risk of eating contaminated food.
Storage Temperature Matters
However safe the process of canning food is, it is important to note that the temperature at which canned food is stored can have a major impact on its longevity and safety.
Canned food that is stored at room temperature, anywhere between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, can be safe to consume for up to two years.
However, canned food kept at higher temperatures of around 85 degrees Fahrenheit will start to degrade in quality quicker.
Keeping your canned food in a truly hot environment, upwards of 95 degrees Fahrenheit, means it may become unsafe to eat within just a few months.
Cooler is always better when it comes to long term storage, to a point. You can go too far in the other direction!
Should you store canned food at or below freezing the contents of the can may swell it to bursting, or cause a leak.
Accordingly, it is important to make every attempt at storing your canned goods in an ideal temperature range, and be aware of how sub-optimal temperature storage will affect its longevity and safety.
When in Doubt
Let’s say that, for whatever reason, you open your canned food and it appears and smells totally normal.
No issues. No damage to the can. But you just aren’t sure. You want to be careful. What can you do to kill any lurking bacteria in canned food that otherwise appears fresh?
Easy: When preparing canned food at home just heat the contents to 165 degrees F (73 degrees Celsius) for a couple minutes and you can be sure of killing off pretty much all harmful, food borne, pathogenic bacteria, including shigellosis, salmonellosis and E. Coli.
How long it takes to attain this temp depends on your appliance, the type of food and its proportions, so it is important to pay attention, err on the side of caution and use a thermometer if in doubt.
By following these simple heating guidelines, you can rest assured that your canned foods are properly prepared and free of potentially dangerous bacteria.
Canned Food is Safe to Eat without Cooking First
Canned food is a convenient and safe way to store and eat food. It is rarely necessary to heat canned food for safety before consuming it, but you can for extra assurance.
By following some simple safety and storage guidelines, you can feel confident that your canned food is free of harmful bacteria.
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Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.