Shelf Life of Canned Foods


The Historic FoodieI think the whole expiration date racket on canned foods is generated by companies that have figured out they can sell more product if consumers replace something that may have been on their pantry shelf for a while.

When I was a child, and even as a younger adult, no one in my family ever threw out canned food unless the seal was broken on home-canned food or there was a dent or rupture in a store-bought can that left doubts as to whether or not the seal was broken. Today more than half of consumers think canned goods should be discarded after two years or less. I wouldn’t expect anyone to take my word for it so let’s consider a statement by industry experts who say that as long as the container is not damaged, that canned food can last indefinitely. 

Canned food from the 1940s | Library of Congress

Canned food from the 1940s. Photo: Library of Congress

The following quote is from the Canned Food Alliance’s website and can be viewed in its entirety at the link at the end of this post.

“Canned food has a shelf life of at least two years from the date of processing. Canned food retains its safety and nutritional value well beyond two years, but it may have some variation in quality, such as a change of color and texture. Canning is a high-heat process that renders the food commercially sterile. Food safety is not an issue in products kept on the shelf or in the pantry for long periods of time. In fact, canned food has an almost indefinite shelf life at moderate temperatures.  (75 Fahrenheit and below). Canned food as old as 100 years has been found in sunken ships and it is still microbiologically safe! We don’t recommend keeping canned food for 100 years, but if the can is intact, it is edible. Rust or dents do not affect the contents of the can as long as the can does not leak. If the can is leaking, however, or if the ends are bulged, the food should not be used.”

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