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How Long Does Canned Food Last?

How Long Does Canned Food Last?

There will never be a shortage of canned foods; they are a staple in everyone’s plans. But there are many people who think that just because food is in a can, it can last for many years. 

One of the biggest obstacles and chores that meal preppers deal with is scrounging for food with a long shelf life and viability in the toughest of environments. Prepping is not a new concept or experience, and various cultures have lived a prepping lifestyle. For example, the Mayans came up with a method of storing sweet potatoes where they could last for a decade and more!

Though canned foods can last for a long time, you still need to make sure that they are still safe to consume when it comes time to open them. Here in this article, you will learn a few important things that you need to know about canned food and how you can use them in extreme situations.

What are canned food and its definition?

There are various types of canned foods, which can lead to the meaning of ‘canned’ becoming a little hazy.

Home Canned Food

Home Canned Food

When you can your own food, the food shelf life depends on the type of food that you are trying to can. The USDA says that home-canned foods have a shelf life of approximately a year. This might sound like a relatively shorter period of time but this doesn’t mean that you forgo the idea of canning food at home as a means of stocking up and ensuring resources for tougher times.

This simply means that you need to more mindful and aware of how you plan to can food and which food, in particular, you could use up within a year.

It is essential to remember that you properly and safely can food items at home, you will need to invest in a pressure canner. There is absolutely no amount of prolonged time in a hot water bath canner that can help make up for the lack of a crucial pressure canner. 

It goes without saying that correctly and securely canned food eliminates the possibility of botulism, which is a potentially fatal sort of food poisoning.

Ensure to always check the canning jar for any defects before using it for canning food at home. Not only could defects lead to spoilage of food and growth of bacteria, but they could also interfere with the complete canning method, resulting in a broken or deformed jar with spoilt food. I mean imagine if you opened a can of meat but were met with a broken jar and handfuls of rotten meat with shards in it. That would definitely not rock, right?

Commercially Canned Food

Commercially Canned Food

The USDA has divided commercially canned foods into two distinctive categories:

  • Foods that are highly acidic
  • Foods that are low acidic

Highly acidic foods typically include citrus juice i.e., apples, pears, peaches, pickled food, food with vinegar, and tomato-based condiments such as tomato sauce, salsa, and canned tomatoes, etc. These particular food items have a recommended shelf life of about 12-18 months. The USDA recommends that once you open them, you should discard highly acidic and commercially canned food after its 7th day of being refrigerated.

Important points to keep in mind

  1. Home-canned food remains safe for consumption for much longer than its first year, however, its quality does tend to decline the more extended the can stays on the shelf. This means that a jam you might have made nearly years ago is most likely still okay to eat but there’s a high chance that it may not taste as good as you had imagined. 
  1. If you are dealing with some preserves that have been on your shelf a little too long and the thought of tasting them is making you drool yet nervous,

Let Us Tell You What To Do

  • Take one of the cans or jars off and take a good and detailed look inside it. 
  • In the case of jams, kinds of butter, jellies, and various other spreads, check to see whether any colors had changed radically. A little bit of discoloration on the surface is alright but the total color change is not a good sign.
  • In the case of pickles, wholly preserved fruit, and relishes, take a good and detailed look at the quality of the syrup or brine inside. If it looks muddy or opaque or seems to have dropped in terms of content, then you might be facing an issue here.
  • If you do not see any of these signs, open up the jar and scan the surface for any mold or scrum that might have formed. Go on to give it a good sniff. Pay attention to any dirty, funky, or pungent stenches that your mose might pick up.
  • Once you’re a 100% sure that your prerserve or relishes have not gone bad, you can give it a taste! Here’s a tip: If a spread has darkened slightly over the surface, go ahead and scrape off the top half inch.
  • If the jar’s content pass the taste test as well, you can put this jar back into rotation and move on to try and test rest of the jars on your shelf.
  1. More often than not, prolonged storage will steal and dull the preserve of its flavor, especially if it was slightly sweetened, contained honest or some sugar substitute. If the taste is barely there, then it might not be smart to spread it on toast, serve with cheese, or stir into your yoghurt. But you can always use these less sweeter jars in quickbreads and as a part of braising liquid.
  1. Needless to say, if you are feeling uncomfortable about something you canned years, just toss it in the can. Do not put yourself through something unnecessarily uncomfortable just for a taste test; just make a new batch!

How long do they really last?

Knowing how long does canned food last is important when you plan on storing them for long periods. The actual length of time that canned food can last is actually dependent on their content. The expiration date of one or two years that are printed on the cans are not really indicative of when the foodstuff inside are still edible; they are more likely placed there to prevent the contents from tasting a bit off.

Some of the canned foods that are known to last for a long time (some are known to last for up to ten years) are tomatoes and other acidic foods, fruits that are preserved in syrup are also good candidates because the large amounts of sugar in them prevent the growth of bacteria. Canned meats surprisingly have very long shelf lives, some people attest that they can last for two to five years.

There is even a report about a can of meat that was found in shipwreck that is more than a hundred years old, and the contents were analyzed it was found that the meat was still edible; though it is not recommended that you keep canned meats in your stockpile for more than ten years or so.

How Can You Tell if the Canned Food Has Gone Bad?

Here are some signs that you have to look for so that you will know which of your canned foods should be thrown out:

  1. If the ends of the can are bulging outward. The bulging is caused by the gases produced by the bacteria that have spoiled the content of the can.
  2. If the can or lid shows signs of heavy corrosion. Even small amounts of rust should raise a red flag in your mind to remind you to throw out that can.
  3. If food has seeped through the top. If the pressure buildup inside the can has exceeded the maximum capacity, it will create small holes along the seams and force some of the contents through it.
  4. If there are some gases that escaped when you tried to open the can, and if there is a disgusting odor coming out of the can, then you should throw it out immediately.

These are signs that botulism bacteria have found their way into the food in the cans; and if you consume the contents still, you will suffer from botulism poisoning, and it is almost always fatal.

How to Extend the Shelf Life of Canned Foods

Even though canning food is meant to extend their shelf life, you can add more years to their usability by following these simple tips:

Extend the Shelf Life of Canned Foods
  • Coat the cans in candle wax to prevent the tin from rusting.
  • Store the cans away from direct sunlight, preferably someplace where the temperature does not exceed forty degrees and the humidity is not that high.

You can really make full use of your food stockpile now that you know how long does canned food last. Though canned foods do not last quite as long as dried foods, they do provide a lot more nutrients, and more importantly, they can provide you with comfort during the hard times. Read about great survival machetes, multitools, and hunting knives.

Conditions that can spoil food

Food items that become wet or come in contact with something wet, it is best advised to discard since water is a primary source of contamination. Dried grains and flours should be ideally kept in the freezer in a double-sealed container or bag. 

All flours and numerous grains have insect eggs laid in them, and if left at room temperature for a considerable amount of time, the eggs are most likely to hatch and lead to the food rotting and becoming their next meal.

I mean, sure, these insect eggs aka weevils are not particularly harmful and some might say they are an essential component of a protein-rich diet, but do you really like the idea of crunching and munching down on weevil eggs?

Appropriate food storage is a looming and huge concern for anyone who wishes to store emergency food or even store food appropriately for an expedition. By understanding how long food items can stay canned before having to be thrown away, preppers are able to make much smarter and informed decisions about how and what to prepare.

How long do certain canned foods last?

Low Acid Canned Foods

Low acid canned food items typically include items such as canned poultry and meat, pasta products, stews, and soups along with vegetables namely corn, carrots, potatoes, beans, spinach, peas, beets, and pumpkin. 

According to the USDA, these specific canned food items can and will last for 2 to 5 years on the shelf after being canned and will last up to nearly 3 to 4 days if stored in the refrigerator after being opened.

Canned Ham

Canned Ham

Shelf-stable canned ham AKA Spam lasts nearly 2 to 5 years on the shelf and after opening, it is usually good for nearly 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.

High Acid Canned Foods

High acid canned food items typically include tomatoes, juices, and fruit products such as pineapple, apples, peaches, plums, berries, pears, and grapefruit as well as sauerkraut, pickles, and most foods that are treated with vinegar-based dressings or sauces. 

High acid canned foods will last nearly 12 to 18 months on the shelf, but last only 5 to 7 days after opening and being stored in the refrigerator immediately.

Home Canned Food Items

If you are someone who is interested in canning their own food at home for expeditions, emergency supply, outdoor adventures, or just to have control over the packaging of your food, it is essential that you remember that if canned properly; these food items can last up to a year on the shelf.

Before using, remember to boil for 20 minutes for low-acid foods and 10 minutes for high-acid foods as a thumb rule of precaution. After opening, your home-canned food items will last nearly 3 to 4 days after being refrigerated immediately.


Canning food can literally be a life-saver if done right with the right knowledge and get you through some pretty rough days in case of a pandemic or any other disaster. Having canned food makes meal prep much easier and faster as well without forgoing the taste or quality of food.

To eat right and healthy, it is essential for you to know the shelf life of canned foods and various types of canned foods and how they differ. For instance, high-acid canned foods last typically 12 to 18 months whereas low-acid canned foods can last nearly 2 to 5 years. 

With the right information, you can make your life and eating habits much simpler, tastier, and efficient.


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