So, How Long Does Canned Food Really Last?

Canned food is something of a staple in our household, we tend to use either a tin of sweet corn or baked beans with almost every meal. They’re long-lasting, flavorful, and easy to cook – you just boil them.

two cans of green beans with added brine
two cans of green beans with added brine

Now, being long-lasting doesn’t mean they don’t go bad, and having worked in retail, I can tell you from experience that this sort of non-perishable food would get lost in the storeroom all the time.

With that in mind, and considering that these can be easily overlooked, how long does canned food really last?

Commercially canned foods can last anywhere from 2 to 5 years. On the other hand, it’s recommended to consume any home canned foods within 1 year of canning date.

All that said, canned foods will typically lose flavor and nutritional value as time goes on.

What makes Canned Food go Bad?

Technically speaking, canned foods can last indefinitely – with the proviso that the container must be kept in good condition.

Of course, as time passes the food will eventually lose its nutritional value and it won’t taste too good but that doesn’t mean it’s unhealthy to eat. So…what can make canned food go bad?

  • Corrosion and/or Rust on the Cans
  • Extreme Temperatures
  • Deep dents in the cans
  • The presence of Botulinum Toxin (indicated by bulging)
  • Leaks in the container

If you can avoid these problems, you’ll be fine but if you open a can that doesn’t smell right or that you’re not sure if it’s good or not; DON’T TASTE THE CONTENTS! You’ll make yourself needlessly sick.

Categories of Canned Foods

We can split canned foods into two categories:

  • High Acid Foods
  • Low Acid Foods

High Acid Foods

Food products treated with vinegar (i.e. Pickles, sauerkraut, sauces, and so on) as well as fruits and juices have high acid content. High acid foods typically last 12 to 18 months unopened, but once opened, they’re refrigerated and last about a week.

Low Acid Foods

Food products like canned meat, pasta (yes, this is a thing), stews and some soups – the only exception being tomato soup – have a low acid content. These are typically good for up to five years unopened. Once opened they’ll only last a few days though.

two jars of canned pickled onions
two jars of canned pickled onions

Shelf Life: Home Canned Foods vs. Commercially Canned Foods

Home canned foods are usually good for about a year or, rather, you’re advised to regard one year as a ‘best by’ date. This is the USDA’s guideline, and is mostly just there to make sure you use your food before it deteriorates.

On the other hand, commercially canned food can last anywhere from 18 months to five years unopened.

Quality vs. Safety

Originally, expiration dates were an inventory tool and the numbers have more to do with quality than safety. Eating bad food is obviously not safe but an expiration date is a marker for when the nutritional value will start to degrade.

The food itself is still safe to eat, but it won’t taste as good and won’t have the same nutrition, which is why you rotate your stock periodically.

It’s a simple case of moving fresh stock to the back of the line/shelf and putting older cans in the front.

Of course, this only works if the container you’re using is handled and stored correctly.

Storage-wise, you’ll want to store your canned goods in a dry place with an optimal temperature of between 50- and 70-degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 20 degrees Celsius).

You should NOT exceed 95-degrees Fahrenheit (35C) as there are some heat-resistant bacteria which may take root and grow; spoiling your food.

A pantry or a cool cupboard in your kitchen should do fine – just keep your canned goods away from any kind moisture/pipes. This will prevent any moisture from damaging your containers and possibly spoiling your food.

In Closing

So, let’s recap:

  • Canned foods have a long shelf life, but they don’t last forever and typically lose their nutritional value and flavor over time.
  • Commercially canned foods can last anywhere from 2 to 5 years unopened.
  • Home canned foods should be used within 1 year of canning.
  • If your containers are in good condition, and you’ve stored them in a cool, dry place; they should last a while.
  • The ideal storage temperature is between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 21 Celsius) but you should not exceed 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 Celsius) or you run the risk of bacteria contaminating your food.

As always, I hope you guys enjoyed the article and found it informative. Thanks for reading, it’s greatly appreciated. Take care, and I’ll see you for the next one!

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