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How Long Will Canned Food Really Last Before It Spoils?

How Long Will Canned Food Really Last Before It Spoils?America’s supermarkets are filled with different ways of labelling expiration dates on canned and packaged foods. According to a 2013 report by the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) and the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, those labels are responsible for as much as 20 percent of the country’s food waste each year.

You have probably read about or heard stories of people – maybe even your relatives — who ate decades-old canned vegetables or fruit and lived to tell the tale.

In one famous study conducted in 1974, for example, National Food Processors Association scientists analyzed 40-year-old cans of corn that had been stored in a home basement in California. Experiments revealed that the “old” corn looked and smelled like newly canned corn and that it had retained most of its nutrients, although a few — such as vitamin C — were at lower levels.

The World’s Healthiest Storable Survival Food — And It Stores For YEARS and YEARS!

Lab results were similar for canned tomatoes and red peppers recovered from a century-old sunken steamboat discovered near Omaha, Neb.

While these stories are interesting, as you store food for long-term emergencies, you are right to wonder: Just how long will canned food last?

As you might expect, the answer depends on whom you ask. According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation website,

Properly canned food stored in a cool, dry place will retain optimum eating quality for at least 1 year. Canned food stored in a warm place near hot pipes, a range, a furnace, or in indirect sunlight may lose some of its eating quality in a few weeks or months, depending on the temperature. Dampness may corrode cans or metal lids and cause leakage so the food will spoil.

Many people interpret that statement to mean that canned foods have a one-year expiration date. In reality, however, many foods will last far longer than that. So how do you tell if a canned food is safe to eat? Here are some steps to follow:

1. Look at the can. Food in damaged or rusting cans has a higher chance of being contaminated than cans in good condition. Do not consume food from cans that are bulging or are leaking fluid.

canned food 2 -- focusonfoodsafetyDOTwordpressDOTcomIn the case of glass jars, look at the food’s color. Some color change over time is normal, but a big alteration in color or a lack of color signals a problem.

In the case of preserved fruit, pickles and relishes, observe the quality of the syrup or brine. There may be a problem if the liquid appears muddy or opaque or if the liquid level has dropped significantly.

Discard a can that has a damaged or flaking lid. Acid may have worn away the lid, allowing microorganisms to enter the jar.

2. Open the can. If so far, so good, go ahead and open the canned food. Throw it away if liquid spurts out when you open the can. Next, examine the surface for any mold or scum on the surface of the food item.

3. Smell the food. If all is still well, give the food a good sniff. It should smell fresh without an unusual or unpleasant odor of any kind.

4. Taste it. Lastly, you can give the food a taste. Keep in mind that long-term storage can affect the flavor of some foods, particularly if it was sweetened lightly.

Here are some additional guidelines for canned food storage.

Low-acidic foods

Contrary to what you might think, canned meats can last longer than canned fruits and vegetables. Most canned meats will keep for two to five years or even longer. Other long-lasting canned low-acid foods are soups (without tomatoes), carrots, pumpkin, potatoes and peas.

High-acidic foods

High-acidic foods include tomatoes and fruit and canned foods that contain vinegar. Although these foods may taste the best and have the best nutrition within a year or so, many of them are edible after years of storage.

Storage requirements

The main reason canned foods spoil is improper storage. Cool, dry storage is best.

Microorganisms can grow and thrive in cans stored in damp areas and in high temperatures (over 95°F). These microorganisms can spoil the food and/or alter the food, enabling other microorganisms to grow.

Keep canned foods away from sunlight. The heat from sunlight can allow the air in the can to expand, breaking open the seal and allowing microorganisms to contaminate the food. In addition, sunlight may accelerate rancidity in foods that contain oil or fats.

There are no hard and fast rules about how long canned foods last. Labels on store-bought foods are indeed misleading. According to that NRDC study,

The waste of edible food by consumers, retailers and manufacturers poses a significant burden to the American food system. Wasted food costs consumers and industry money; squanders important natural resources that are used to grow, process, distribute, and store America’s food supply; and represents a missed opportunity to feed the millions of food insecure households in the United States that are struggling to access healthy, affordable food. Misinterpretation of the date labels on foods is a key factor leading to this waste.

When all is said and done, it is best to trust your instincts. If you have a bad feeling about a can of food, toss it.

Do you have any advice on eating canned food that has been stored for years? Share your thoughts in the section below:

Discover The Trick To Saving Thousands At The Grocery Store. Read More Here.


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  1. Thank you for all the idea !!!

  2. I have been a serious prepper since Y2K, and have a large supply of canned goods. I date each can with a magic marker when I purchase it, and store it on shelves in my unheated basement. Each shelf is covered vertically with a plastic sheet and a cloth sheet.

    My family regularly eats canned food dated 2008 and younger. (I draw the line at 2007 and older).
    We observe all the rules mentioned above. Over the past weekend I opened a can of Bush baked beans w/onions, a can of spam and a can of sausage hash – all were tasty and no stomach upset whatsoever.

    When we go to the store this coming Friday, I will purchase one can of Bush beans w/onions, a can of spam, and a can of sausage hash to keep my stash up to date.

  3. I have been trying to explain to my kids and other young people that Expiration Dates on products does not mean the item is no longer good, but too may of them continue to throw perfectly good food away because “it’s expired”! They do not understand that these dates were originally placed on products to mean that was the last date a grocery store could sell the product. It was a date that was pulled out of thin air and based on no scientific data or sound research, but was intended to insure that grocery stores were rotating their stock.

    I grew up well before that government sate stamp went on every product from canned beans to batteries to water and more. We knew how to tell when food was bad even without opening the can. To show how brainwashed people have become concerning expiration dates I’ll tell you a situation I ran into during the Vietnam War. In 1970 we were issued K-Rations when in the field that were canned for use by World War 2 soldiers, the cans in them were stamped ‘Packed 1942’ … basic math said the food in those cans was canned 28 years before we opened them and consumed them. The food did taste a little flat, but it was good, it provided nourishment to continue and none of us got sick from eating it. Needless to say a statement like “food stored in a cool, dry place will retain optimum eating quality for at least 1 year” makes an old soldier like me chuckle at the dimwit who would write such a ludicrous statement, much less believe it … Vietnam was neither dry nor cool and I’ll bet where the Army had stored these K-Rations for 28 years before they were distributed to us, both stateside and in Nam, was not a cool place either.

    What one needs to do is talk to people who were old enough to buy and prepare food in the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s and let them tell you how we knew to toss canned food without opening the can, sniffing the food, looking for mold or film inside the can or other nonsensical time wasters. Write down their tips and stop throwing away perfectly good food!!!

    • I’m 71 so I believe as you, if it doesn’t bite you, you can bite it. Also just use common sense. As you stated you will know if its bad without opening it. Thanks for your input. Shalom

  4. I was with the 1st Cav infantry, Nam ’69….our C rations were many times actually K rations left over from the
    Korean war 1950-1953… actually was not bad……loved the peaches and cake mixed together.

  5. Just opened a can of Ranch beans w/ jalapeno yesterday for lunch.
    Can was dated “Best By xx,xx 2013” I don’t remember the month and day
    but it was definitely 2013 and they looked and tasted fine. No problems at all
    24hrs later.
    I checked for bulging before opening and did the smell test right after opening.

  6. Does anyone think that by constantly recycling our cans that the quality of the cans aren’t as good and therefore won’t be as long lasting for our food as in the past? Seems like the quality of everything is going down nowadays. Just wondering…

    • Steve I was wondering the same thing! The containers we use noweadays are made differently and some use different materials than the ones my grandparents had. Not to mention the quality of the food (GMO, pesticides, chemicalso used) is different as well. I do realize that the “use by date” doesn’t equal expired.

    • Nope; actually, the methods of making cans has improved significantly over the years. Recycling the metal to reforge a new can does not in any way damage the quality of the new can.

      As for the quality of the food inside, and the GMO issue though… well, that’s another can of worms.

  7. There was another reply by a vet about eating K-Rations in the Army which were 20+ years old. I wanted to ask him some more questions after I finished my lunch, but when I came back the post is gone. Why did you delete that post? If you’re going to be censors of source information then why should we trust any of it?

    • Now it’s back, but why did it disappear in the first place?

      • Hi, and thanks for the question. We didn’t delete his comment. We delete racist comments and comments with strong language, but that’s it. 🙂

    • I remember C Rations during my time in the USMC as being pretty good overall. During November of 1974, our boot platoon was on the 17 mile hike from the rifle range at Pendleton to the ITR at San Onofre. We stopped midway at Los Pulgas and the DI’s began unloading cases of rations out of a shed beside the trail. Nothing scientific about inspecting the main meals as we opened them – if they erupted or showed signs of crud we tossed them on a pile and opened another. They were still edible and fruits/cake were fine, too. The particular meal I ate (to my amazement) was canned in 1943. It never occurred to me per Billo’s post they may have been repackaged, but it makes sense.

  8. stephania in Hawaii

    It is hot and humid where we live and I have had cans bulge and pop open. Realized that the pantry was pretty warm against an outside wall. Now I am storing goods under the house in a bin behind a stone wall that remains shady. So far so good. My own canned prepared goods have remained stable and safe for consumption.
    I am leery about commercial canned goods….GMO ? chemicals? who knows what they are putting in there unless they are certified organic and non GMO. future generations will be eating this when we are no longer around.

    • I’m so tired hearing about GMO foods being bad the fact is they are the most regulated food on the planet not to mention the most scientifically studied and guess what they are perfectly safe. The garbage that people here about is from the only eat organic poeple. The fact is the organic people try to scare everyone to make you pay 3 to 5 times more money for their products. Get real and get educated the fact is the earth is going to be over populated and GMO is the only way to go. It will buy the human race some time till we as a specie’s can figure out a solution to this problem

  9. When I was in the Air Force we were fed boxes of C Rations that were marked 1944 and 1945 and that was in the 1980s. They were just fine and none of us died or were made ill by eating the forty year old canned meals. As for taste, I’m sure they still tasted just as bad as they didn in 1945, especially the ham and eggs but I’m still here to tell about it.

  10. In the context of survival and living verses going hungry and dying, we need to think about whether any
    kind of preserved food will either “help us” ( meaning is beneficial to eat ) verses is “harmful” meaning
    it would affect us in a way that would be worse than starving. Sure there are the spoiled among us who
    will never face life and death and would prefer to throw away any food whereby the “taste” has diminished
    somewhat compared to fresh food and this is tolerable for all situations that are less severe than the
    live-or-die-by-starvation scenario. It is tolerable but costly as these foods that are “older” but safe
    to eat could be donated and distributed to those that are facing death by starvation and would be glad
    to eat the food although the “fresh” taste might have been slightly affected.

    Let me specifically note that the current verbiage in the USA regarding dates on foods is this
    “BEST BY – date: month/day/year. This by no means implies that the food is dangerous or
    could harm you after that date. They just want to tell you it is the “best” before that date.

    Remember the mfgrs of foods hope that you will throw it away and purchase more. This increases
    their profits.

    Lets discuss and define what “inedible” or “unsafe” means…….

    We have to know how food becomes dangerous.
    it is when dangerous microorganisms grow in foods and produce toxins that harm us when
    we eat the microorganisms. Salmonila, botulism, some molds etc. There are enzymes in some
    foods that change over time that alter the taste and/or color that is not dangerous to us and
    does not interfere with our bodies absorbtion of the food nutrients. These foods will prevent
    death by starvation if eaten but will not cause sickness because of any toxins or unsafe chemicals
    or nutrients. So to repeat…. These foods have value regarding the saving of lives but may
    not be considered to have value to wealthy people during societal good times that surrounds them.

    However poverty exists always and the more fortunate or wealthy people who have the resources
    to only eat good tasting food should consider that what they dispose of could save the lives
    of those less fortunate and living in poverty or other emergency situations.

    Let me say also that for those fortunate that never “have” to eat taste diminished older foods…..
    they should consider that someday catastrophies and emergencies occur that do not discriminate
    among income earners and it might be a good idea to at least store the “out of date” foods
    for emergency situations that might arise in the future instead of throwing the food away
    IF it is too great a burden to share the food with the poor or less advantaged people….

    AND PLEASE emergency providers….. DONT BE SO STUPID as to throw away these old
    foods as people you are providing for die of starvation.

    Scientifically…. Consider that food in a can whereby ALL the bad organisms were killed in
    the preservation/canning process… will ALWAYS – FOREVER be good (enough to eat )
    for as long as the seal is maintained and no organism can enter and begin to grow.
    THAT is how food spoils…. SO if it has not spoiled…. then it is safe and beneficial
    to eat compared to starving to death. I personally have a case some home canned green beans
    that are now twenty three years-old and always stored in a 65 degree cellar. Three or four
    years ago we opened a jar and two of us first ate only one green bean. The taste as a
    little bland but we waited overnight to see if there were any ill effects. There were none.
    The next day, we dumped the beans in a pot and heated on the stove with seasoning
    and they were excellent. This was at 20 or 21 years old. I would DAMN sure eat
    these green beans instead of dying by starvation. Remember …. if the seal is not broken
    the food can NEVER become dangerous to eat and thusly there will always be nutrition
    that can be absorbed if eaten.

    • I think emergency providers are often required by law to discard expired food, because otherwise they can be sued and lose their privilege to help others in case someone throws a lawsuit against them. Twisted, but, there you go.

  11. I ate 7 year old chili and lived!!

  12. It’s the end of the world as you know it. You’re starting to get really hungry. You find a can at the back of a cabinet in an abandoned house with no label. Gee! Maybe this is already past it’s “sell by” date.

    So what…..

    If the can’s not bulging, leaking or showing black at the can seams, I’m gonna be opening it with the intent to eat!

    Reminds me of one of those weird doomsday movies called “The Road” or something like that. The father and son were near starvation when they found someone’s stash of canned food in a survival shelter. The original “survivalists” were dead in their beds but their food stash saved the father and son. The best part was the can openers that had been left right out in the open. Good planning!

  13. What about the safety on boxed food? Ex: Hamburger helper or Mac & Cheese & other types of items? We purchase MRE’s and freeze dried cans with oxygen type packs enclosed. Have tried a lot of them and they are very tasty. Plus we plant a lrg garden & I can & freeze an array of fruits & veggies. Thanks for all the info & help.

  14. In my state, all food pantries, soup kitchens, etc. are required by law to reject donations of food past the sell by date and dispose of such food in their possession. So the suggestions of donating canned goods, by wealthy people or others, that have past their stamped dates would be pointless here I’m afraid. If you chose to take them straight to the streets and hand them out, you could be arrested for feeding the homeless without a permit. I’m not joking.
    I remember several news stories last year( maybe 2 years ago? Not sure) where people were dumpster diving for food disposed of for being beyond the sell by date behind grocery stores. The reporters were horrified by it. If I remember correctly (which I rarely do!) laws were quickly passed forcing grocery stores to dispose of expired food by other means than their dumpster out back. Sad. I was impressed with those people’s ingenuity!

    • You must live in NY …as I do! Yes, I was told that if they get cans with expired dates that by law, they have to throw them out! Ridiculous!

  15. I think I can top some of these. On a dare, I once ate a 12 year old can of sardines in tomato sauce. They didn’t have nearly as much flavor but I sure didn’t get sick.

  16. If there is any doubt about the safety of eating canned veggies, such as corn, beans, etc. they can be boiled for, I think it is about 15 minutes, which can kill any harmful organisms. Learned this many years ago when a friend just tasted some canned corn to check it for spoilage, thought it was ok, but developed botulism which was caused her death. Best to not taste first, boil first is there is any doubt. Not the same problem with fruit, only veggies.

    • But botulism can’t be fixed by boiling food. Even if she boiled it, if that’s what she died from, it wouldn’t have changed the outcome.

      Neither can solanine poisoning lol, which I was stupid enough to have the misfortune to get a number of years ago. Not fun stuff. Don’t eat the green potatoes lol. It makes your lungs get paralyzed.

  17. Other than C rations I’ve only eaten canned goods that were four years old and the only time I experienced a bad can was some diced tomatoes that had just started bulging, I tossed them and got another and it was fine. Also, those packaged noodle or rice side dishes last well beyond they’re use by date. The noodle types can get a little stale tasting after a few years but if one was to store them more efficiently than I did they would most likely last many years beyond they’re use by date.

  18. If it’s dry cereal (not grains like oats, but boxed cereal) I do find I have to throw it out after it reaches its expiration date, because it get stale even when it’s unopened.

    But for anything else, it’s not like a date comes and instantly at that moment in time, food becomes inedible or unsafe to consume. ^^

    Excellent article.

    Oh and- the reason low-acid foods sometimes last longer in regards to expiration date? It’s because they require special types of processing to make them safe for shelf storage. If the high acid foods were processed this way, they’d last even longer. But companies don’t bother, because it is more expensive.

  19. Argh, boiling for 10 minutes can absolutely kill botulism. Info is easy to look up.

    • Mel: the organism can be killed by boiling but the toxins cannot. It is not the organism, per se, that kills you, but rather the toxin that it has produced.

  20. Hello there,

    I am a young widow, in my 20’s with a small son, we live off grid on top of a mountain. I am not looking to replace my husband but am very concern with the chaos erupting all over the world and especially in this Country. My husband died before we could complete our plans, therefore, I am hoping to find a capable man that will do well with an off grid independent life. A man that is a builder, has certain combat/firearm and survival skills, who is business savvy, patient, and who will care for and protect my son and myself. I know this is a long shot but tragic and devastating things happens to all of us and one has to think of ways out or around it no matter how difficult it is. ” IT’S NOT THAT I CAN AND OTHERS CAN’T, IT’S THAT I WILL AND OTHERS WON’T ” , is a motto my husband lived by.

    Our plan was for 95% – 99% ” self efficiency ” we wanted to live off grid and have all the convenience of being on grid. Where I live there are only 2 full time neighbors on a 2 mile private driveway. The closes is half a mile away. There are no buildings or structures that can be seen from our property.

    If there is a man that meets this criteria and may be interested please respond to this letter and we will go from there. I am a very private person so I dare not share too much information on the world wide web, well openly for all eyes to see. You will be walking into a project, as I mentioned before, my husband died before everything could be completed. We will have a mutually beneficial arrangement (whatever that means?)
    Yes, I know this may sound rather bizarre and you may be wondering if this is for real, well I can assure you I am no robot, I have flesh and everything and all the requirements that makes me a real human being person…thingy majigger, which happens to be the technical name of some big machine. Winter is steadily approaching, and by the way, winters here are breathtakingly gorgeous and tranquil it makes me feel like I am in a snow globe.

    Thank you for all inquiries (is my attempt to sound all business like…I don’t know if I used that word correctly…Oh Well.)

    My name is Reana and yours?

  21. I would like to dialog with you. I’m interested in your life style. I am a Vietnam veteran DogHandler and retired Policeman. Don.

  22. Aww, what was the outcome, Reana and Donald?
    Hope it all worked out.

    How long does packaged food last for, ie rolled oats, sugar, flour, etc?
    I guess I should look up a different article 🙂

  23. Looking at the condition of the can is a practice that I can get behind. I’m the kind of shopper that tries to get in and out of the grocery store as fast as possible. I don’t really look to see if there are any blemishes or dents in the cans of food I purchase, but that’s about to change. Having a can that is in good condition really is one of the best ways to keep food fresh, so I’ll keep an eye out!

  24. I also ate C-rations in 1968 that were dated 1951 etc. I actually liked them- even the Ham and Lima Beans (But, then I grew up on that kind of food) The worst was the eggs and bacon- Why anyone thought canned eggs and bacon would be good in the first place- Idunno. But, some guys loved ’em.

    I was given five quart jars of home canned kale from a friend’s mothers collection (she had passed away). The jar style was old fashioned, narrow mouth, deep screw threads and dated by pencil on deteriorating labels, 7/1927. Through the glass, the food looked fine. I decided to put my life on the line, opened a jar, fished out some of the kale, it smelled fine, looked fine, texture was okay, so I tasted it – and it tasted fine. I ate a larger, boiled serving, and obviously survived, – fed the rest of it over the next few years to entire family- they loved it. But, then, we have the rare “We love kale and all dark greens” gene.

    So, I now don’t worry too much about put-up dates. I test it, taste it, eat it if it’s good. My own pantry has lots of chicken, beef, pork, veggies, and fruit dating back to 2010 when I started canning again. Every now and then, we open one and eat it. We’re fine.

  25. Had a discussion about this topic yesterday with my neighbor over drinks. We were talking about different Italian foods when from my pantry I produced a jar of Asti stuffed peppers packed in oil which I bought when I lived in New Jersey between 1984-1986. It still had a $2.49 paper sticker on it (way before the current bar code system). I opened the jar whose lid was not bulging. All looked good do I ate two. The stuffed peppers tasted fine, but perhaps as good as they would have 30 plus years ago. My neighbor declined to taste – I’ll remind him of this the next time I offer up a 30 or 40 plus years old bottle of wine. I know he’ll have no problem with that!

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