Canned goods’ shelf life

Canned foods are safe alternatives to fresh and frozen foods and help meet dietary needs and avoid preservatives.

Proper storage can greatly increase the shelf life and quality of canned foods.

Quality and purchase: Canned foods can either be purchased commercially or home canned. Home canned foods should be canned using research-tested recipes and processes like those found in the “USDA Complete Guide to Canning” or in Cooperative Extension publications. Use only the best quality foods to can at home. Home canning processes can never improve the quality of foods. Commercially canned foods are superior to home canned for food storage. Commercial canners can closely control quality and safety to produce the best product. Purchase canned foods in either cans or jars. Avoid rusted, dented, scratched or bulging cans.

Storage conditions: Store all canned food in cool, dark, dry space away from furnaces, pipes and places where temperatures change like un-insulated attics. Do not allow sealed cans or glass jars to freeze. Freezing changes food textures, and leads to rust, bursting cans,and broken seals that may let in harmful bacteria. Always store metal cans off of the floor, especially bare concrete.

Shelf life: As a general rule, unopened home canned foods have a shelf life of one year and should be used before two years. Commercially canned foods should retain their best quality until the expiration code date on the can. This date is usually 2-5 years from the manufacture date. High acid foods usually have a shorter shelf life than low acid foods.

Use from storage: Always use FIFO (First-in, first-out), meaning use your oldest cans first. Before opening, discard any badly dented, bulging, rusty, or leaky cans or jars that have broken seals.

Open cans or jars to view and smell contents. When opening, discard any can that spurts. Discard contents (do not taste) if there is a strange odor or appearance.

Angela Treadaway is the Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety/Preservation and Preparation with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. She can be reached at 410-3696.