Canned Food Shelf Life Studies


Canned Food will last much longer than you may realize. The ‘Use-by’ dates that are posted on cans are confusing and many people incorrectly associate them with shelf life.

In fact the following studies prove that canned food can least for a very long time!

The date on the can does not mean it’s the date at which the food inside will suddenly turn into mush. If you think about it, the professional canning process ensures that all bacteria has been cooked out of the product, and then the can itself is sealed which ensures that nothing can get inside to harm the condition of the contents.

The only thing slowly changing in the can over time is freshness, flavor, and texture.


Canned Food Study One

A Food and Drug Administration Article about a shelf life test that was conducted on 100-year old canned foods that were retrieved from the Steamboat Bertrand, indicates surprising results.

Among the canned food items retrieved from the Bertrand in 1968 were brandied peaches, oysters, plum tomatoes, honey, and mixed vegetables.

In 1974, chemists at the National Food Processors Association (NFPA) analyzed the products for bacterial contamination and nutrient value.

Although the food had lost its fresh smell and appearance, the NFPA chemists detected no microbial growth and determined that the foods were as safe to eat as they had been when canned more than 100 years earlier.

The nutrient values varied depending upon the product and nutrient. The chemists reported that significant amounts of vitamins C and A were lost; but, protein levels remained high, and all calcium values ‘were comparable to today’s products.

NFPA chemists also analyzed a 40-year-old can of corn found in the basement of a home in California. Again, the canning process had kept the corn safe from contaminants and from much nutrient loss. In addition, the kernels looked and smelled like recently canned corn.

“According to a recent study cosponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and NFPA, canned foods provide the same nutritional value as fresh grocery produce and their frozen counterparts when prepared for the table. NFPA researchers compared six vegetables in three forms: home-cooked fresh, warmed canned, and prepared frozen. ‘Levels of 13 minerals, eight vitamins, and fiber in the foods were similar’. In fact, in some cases the canned product contained high levels of some vitamins that in fresh produce are destroyed by light or exposure to air.”

Best Manual Can Opener – Lightweight Stainless Steel


Canned Food Study Two

A canned food shelf life study conducted by the U.S. Army revealed that canned meats, vegetables, and jam were in an excellent state of preservation after 46 years.

(Update: the original source link for this study is no longer available)


Canned Food guidelines given by the U.S.D.A.

Use high-acid canned food (fruits, tomatoes and pickled products) in 18 to 24 months.

Use low-acid (meats and vegetables) in two to five years.

Canned food storage is a viable choice among your diversification with dry goods and other types of food and packaging, and will last much longer than what the date label indicates. When it comes to food storage, we recommend a balanced approach of foods, and to practice food storage rotation so that you’re eating what you store over time.


  1. “”Use high-acid canned food (fruits, tomatoes and pickled products) in 18 to 24 months.””

    You are giving poor information–I have canned fruit and tomatoes from 2008; therefore, I have valid proof these items are fresh as the day canned and taste is not compromised.
    Nutrition?? How would I know.

    Pickled products?? They last longer than acidic foods.
    For heavens sake—They are pickled!!!!!

    1. Jay,

      He was simply providing the “guidelines given by the USDA”.

      The purpose of the article, I would assume, is to state that we should consider eating canned goods on a longer time table than officially recommended.

      Thanks for supporting the article concept by sharing your canned food experience in regards to eating product stored longer than the guidelines!

      1. You’re right – that was my purpose. I simply cited the USDA guidelines for informational purposes. No doubt they are being very conservative in their estimates. Additionally, the studies cited above indicate that some of these canned foods have lasted 100 years!

        Here’s a somewhat related article I wrote awhile back:

        4 Ways How To Tell If A Dented Can Is Safe

    2. I think the USDA guidelines are backwards — longer for high acid foods.

      Yesterday I had a can of Manderine oranges that expired in 2012. They were fine and so am I.

      1. I don’t think they were mixed up. Higher acid foods will not keep texture and colors longer because of the acid. But it still would depend on storage conditions. Temperatures that are stable and cool are the best. Temperature fluctuation and higher temperatures are bad.

      2. I am glad to hear your canned mandarins were still good, I have 3 cans with an expiration date of 2011. I will definitely be keeping them. Thanks!

    3. I have used tomato sauce at least 3 years old that looked and tasted like I just bought it. Food companies have been successful in convincing people that canned food magically goes bad the day after the date stamped on the can. Maybe I’ll test some canned food and report on the horrible transformations that occur at 12:01 on the day after the date stamped on the can. WARNING: Post will include grisley photos. We may witness the birth of Godzilla.

    4. I have commercially canned tomatoes that are approaching their 4th birthday most seem to be doing fine. Occasionally one will leak and I discard it. Now days better quality brands line the interiors of the cans with a white epoxy coating that extends it’s shelf life by preventing the acidic food from interacting with the metal that previously resulted in shorter shelf life, Here’s some info on the coating.
      I do recommend checking the can’s integrity by giving it the “press test” op and bottom to make sure the cans are still sealed well, And most importantly, if a tomato can sprays when you first open it throw it out. That’s a good indicator there’s an anaerobic bacteria present. (IE. botulinum )

  2. An important mention here is to always check the cans before eating them. A hidden rupture can mean contamination and potential botulism

    1. Yes, look out for deformed/swollen cans as that can be a sign of bacterial growth. It’s better to trash some canned food than have to get your stomach pumped.

  3. I have several home canned jams and jellys that are from 3-5 years ago and are the same as the day I made them. Store bought green beans that had a best by date of 2012 are currently in the rotation. They are also fine.

    Think about this. If they put a use by date and people don’t use it by that date and are convinced it is “bad” then you have to buy more… This in turn relines the pockets of those companies. It’s a pretty good business idea if you ask me! Years ago cans did not have a use by date on them. Home canned if the seal is good and the contents look and smell fresh then I use it. On store bought items as long as the contents smell/look fresh and the can is not bulged then I use it. Some items will not be as pretty like my home canned corn after a couple years. That fed the pigs.

  4. I have canned veg. corn, peas, green beans, mixed veg, pork&beans, pot. and canned meats ham, tuna spam that has uses by 2012 are they still safe to eat. I have a lot of them can someone help me. Thanks Doris

  5. Acidic foods are more of an issue in metal cans. If there is any imperfection in any coatings, they will attack the metal.

  6. Good Article.Thanks for the info.I have wondered about this for years.But as long as it looked good smelled good and tasted ok I have used it,and have never had any side effects.

    I am currently prepping,just in case of a collapse or other disaster.When the store shelves are bare,I want a supply of good food to keep my family happy until things improve and get back to normal.Hope it is in vain but better safe than sorry.

    1. Lots of people are prepping for the same or various reasons. The Mormon’s have awesome resources when it come to food storage. If you google ‘food calculator lds’ (Latter Day Saints) you can actually type in how many are in your family and it will tell you how many/much of the ‘basics’ (i.e. oats, beans, oil, wheat, milk) that your family needs for a year. Also if you happen to live by a Mormon ‘cannery’ or Bishops store house you can by all those items in large (#10?) cans that are sealed to last 20-30 years! Its awesome. They also have great resources for 72 emergency kits and water supply (which is even more important and useful than food!) And 3 months supply sheets of the regular food your family already eats and rotation ideas so nothing goes bad. Sometimes it doesn’t even have to be a huge disaster- my sister just had her city water contaminated and they couldn’t use it for a WEEK- not even for washing clothes. The stores were cleared out in MINUTES. She already had a water supply and so it was no sweat. Also my neighbor lived in Washington and once after a giant ice storm they had no power and no trucks coming in and out of their area for around 8 days. They had little kids and they had no access to anything (trees were all over the roads) but they had enough food storage and emergency preparedness stuff they were fine. They are HUGE preppers now. Just sharing! Cheers!

      1. That is ONLY a “guideline”! I have several doubts that the amounts are anywhere NEAR correct! ….. Example …. 28 gallons of water for 2 ADULTS For a YEAR?! … ummm No way is THAT Is even close! !

        1. hmmm, lets see … one human adult at minimum 6 X 8 oz water daily ( this is sufficient amount for survival), including any coffee/tea/juice, etc. == 48 oz/day x 365 days == 17,520 oz of water per year per adult … divided by ?128? oz in a gallon — 136.88 gallons per adult, minimum.

      2. Thank you. The LDS resource is a great reminder. I grew up with that and bomb shelter practices with always having a year’s supply of canned goods and dry goods on hand….which we rotated through. Now that I’m older, I’m considering shelf lives myself. Too many “personal” opinions out there which are not helpful. I, too, was in that Washington ice storm and remember it well!! I have the emergency food buckets on hand, but wanted guidance on the basic cupboard staples. Cheers to you!

  7. I ate some chili last week that had a best by date of 6/12/07… smelled great, tasted awesome… and I am feeling fine, it was purchased in 2004 so it was 10 years old, I am sure that in 10 more it would be just fine as long as the can/seal were not compromised.

  8. when I was in basic training in the af in 1979 they fed us c rations canned in 1938 nobody got sick the food was delicious ( they also marched us around all day before they fed us ) the crackers were even fresh and crunchy it was all canned

    1. I agree I ate c rations in training that were older then I was by a year, I was 19. No ill effects.

    2. Jim, I was stationed in Philly Shipyard USN 1960. USN Reserve fleet. We unloaded life boat rations from Res. Fleet ships, sent them to the galley and they feed the troops, no one died. This stuff was from about 1944. Even got Lucky Strike cigs in a green pack. Old stuff. Best regards, Jerry, Slidell, LA

  9. Can I still use canned meat that I had in my fridge for about 15years

  10. Years ago I visited my elderly grandfather for lunch. He went down into the cellar and brought up a jar of pickles that has been canned by my grandmother before I was born 40 years earlier. Still here to tell the story supporting an earlier comment about pickled foods.

  11. Visited my 89 year old mother last week. She brought up from her basement a can of “spam” and a can of applesauce. A flashback to my childhood, we sliced the spam, browned both sides in a frying pan, then covered with applesauce. It was similar to meals we had back in the late 50’s. On the cans were that dates that she had purchased them and placed them downstairs. The spam, 1999, the applesauce, 2002. While it has never been my favorite meal, it did bring back memories. Tonight I just finished off a cherry cobbler, that was delicious, made from home canned fruit dated 1987. Since it is the third cobbler made in the last 6 months from this batch of cherries, I don’t anticipate any problems with the others either. I only have 13 more jars to go.

  12. When we cleared out my parents’ house and hanger (they lived on a private air-park), we found literally hundreds of jars of pickles, stewed tomatoes, marmalade, jams, jellies, fruits, vegetables, and meats. Not to mention dried beans, dried fruits, etc. All canned, either in mason jars or in #10 cans.

    We sampled some of it, and it was all pretty good. Some of the pickles and tomatoes were dated 1974. I remember when my Dad canned those…..All good, all edible. There was also Chili, stews, ham, all kinds of stuff. My parents grew up in the depression. They always stopped at the local fruit and vegetable stands to buy their produce, and they always canned it. Old habits die hard I guess. Oh, and sauerkraut…..Really good fermented sauerkraut….White and red….

    All I can say is that if the stuff is properly canned, it will last a long time. My brother and I split a Mason jar of chili that was canned in 1976, we ate it in 2012. 36 year old chili. No problems.

    Just my $0.02.

  13. I happened upon a can of chicken (Swanson Premium Chunk in Water 5oz) the expiration date on the can was May 1998. It was stored in my Camper that I bought in 1998. I opened it, it was in perfect condition so I ate it. I tasted very nice. I am amazed 17 years! it was still natural color and slightly pink. YUM! I think I will stock up on this stuff.

    1. Dan,
      you may be in the perfect position to answer a question for us…

      I have wondered/been of the opinion, that cans of food bought these days is not of the same good taste or quality as some time back.

      If you buy more of the same, please try one and let us know? Does the new one taste close to the “very” old one.

      1. They are putting less meat and more liquids in cans of meat these days. i am not buying much fish.. don’t know what it has in it…

  14. Hi,
    I am wanting to know about tuna in the 4oz. can. I am stocking up for the mini Ice Age in the 2030’s. I cannot afford to buy the larger cans of tuna.
    Has anyone tasted 4oz. canned tuna that has been stored for over 15 years?
    Also is any gallon can of food, a #10 can?
    Thank you for this article and to everyone who has added great information.
    May God Bless

    1. An “older” can of tuna is probably safer than the newer cans of tuna given that there is so much mercury and radiation in the Pacific, where MOST of our tuna comes from. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

    2. Not positive but I believe a #10 can is the size of a regular Campbell’s soup can.

      1. A #10 can is a 1 gallon can. Weight inside may vary but all #10 are the same size.

    3. Hi, just to let you know that a #10 can is pretty large. I order sometimes from Honeyville Grain Company and their freezed dried foods and emergency rice and grains come in #10 cans. The company specially seals them so that product lasts 10-25+ years depending on the product.
      I got 6 10# cans of parboiled rice recently and each 4 pounds.
      Hope that helps! :)

  15. Hi again,
    I was also wanting to know about the foods sold in the grocery store in gallon cans. What about the Baked Beans that have the brown sugar in them?
    I have read that brown sugar is not a very stable product and goes bad quickly. So would the baked beans go bad after the expiration date?
    And what canned foods should you NOT STORE for over 15 years?
    Thank you agian

  16. Bottom line…if it looks right, smells right and tastes right…eat it! The comment on brown sugar going bad is only making reference to raw in the box…it will harden. Anything canned commerically or professionally is good for years to come. If the can is swollen…don’t open it. I have years of food stocks packed away in a 3 tier system. In event things go bad…eat freezer food first…canned foods second…long term shelf life foods third supplemented by wild kill. I also store grains, rice, sugar, salt, powdered milk in food saver bags. I’ve tested everything 3 years after packing and all is good. Maybe a little caking but still good. Canned good will last longer than you will!

  17. Thank you for posting this! I had been looking for a shelf life for my canned products for awhile. My Nana and Mom are gone so I didn’t have them to ask!


  18. You’re not supposed to keep highly acidic/citrus canned foods for long because the pH will erode the aluminum cans on the inside. If you have old canned foods and the inside of the can is dark brown and has a clear visible line at point of contact, obviously the lining has been eroded. Of course eating a few of these won’t do much or any harm to your body but living off of them will. Either way this is all common sense if you passed 5th grade.

    1. If you properly “pressure can” your meats in glass mason jars, I would assume that erases the tin/acid factors and the meats should last decades? … YES?

  19. I have a can of Scungelli which I have had for at least 4 or 5 years. I am going to open them and finally eat them-wish me luck.

  20. I have canned some applesauce, pears and peaches in the mason jars in 2008. They have discolored and I am concerned if they are still good. The seals have not popped and look intact. Please help, thank you.

  21. lucy arzola.

    If the seals are intact as you have mentioned, they will be OK. Discolouration is routine after a few years. Mine always do this after 3 years or so. Disgard the top layer if you like, the rest should be great.

  22. for old canned foods – the cans was made from thin steel hot dip coated with tin and depended on the tin for corrosion protection; tin also is antimicrobial. Modern cans are electroplated with VERY much thinner tin and depend primarily on a coating of lacquer for corrosion resistance. If you scratch the lacquer -outside or inside – the can can rust and leak. So comparing 100 year old cans to new is apples to oranges.

    I have had several cans leak in my kitchen cabinets; Generic seem to be more prone to this than name brand.

    For long term storage I would recommend padding the shelves and inspecting each can at least yearly.

  23. Ate some 19 year old mayonnaise-just a little moldy but didn’t get that sick

  24. I have home canned green beans, lima beans & pickles. These were done in a pressure cooker in glass jars (Mason or Ball). They were prepared in 2009. They all look very good as the day they were canned. Not sure of the safety. Any advice?

    1. – Sniff test,
      If they don’t smell right, toss them. If it’s okay, then heat the green beans or limas, taste, and if they taste alright, eat. Pickles? Again, sniff then taste. That’s not really too awfully long for pickles, and I would suspect the other vegetables are fine, too.
      The human nose and taste buds are a very sophisticated laboratory evolved over a long time/designed by the Lord (whichever source you prefer: personally, I believe evolution to be a guided-by Divine Providence Issue) to protect and defend the human body. It does its job well.

      – Papa S.

  25. Does a pop top canned food last just as long as the ones you have to open with a can opener?

    1. – Prepper,
      Short answer is, No. They tend to fail at about 6 Months past expiration date.
      – Papa S.

  26. Prepper
    Some of the past posters had difficulties with the lids not staying sealed. Now I would hazard a guess that could be in part the thickness of the metal can used certain food products.
    We have a soup that has the pull top lids. They are a few years old but were stored in a building well insulated outside then moved into the house. There has been no failure on any of these cans.
    If it were new issued cans then NO, I would not use the for long term storage.

  27. Question for those who have Home Canned Beef…

    Although shelf life of home canned (whatever) is safe for a long time (provided the seal is still good), here’s a question… For those who have gone through the process of home canning beef, what has been your experience with consuming this (texture / quality) if it has been on the shelf for a couple of years or more…

    1. Ken, we have had great success with canning roast. It is fabulous, even after it’s been on the shelf for a couple of years. Canned ground beef however, was disgusting. No one in our family cared for the taste, smell, or texture. We tried using it in tacos, chili, etc., still couldn’t eat it. I will continue to can roast, but not ground beef.

    2. Ken J
      I can the round and sirloin, all meat, no fat. But, I boil the bones and can the meat in bone broth. Doing chuck, well, there is a lot of fat, which means a lot of trim. I do can other cuts, but you gotta trim as much fat off as possible, you never get it all.
      We made BBQ beef the other day with canned sirloin, date on jar, 8-14-2009, 13yrs old, and honestly, you could not tell it from fresh.
      Ground beef? Well, after yrs experimenting, this is what I do. Precook to about 125, wash in very hot water to flush fat. I use bone broth and can it wet. Tried dry, it was not good at all, dog food.
      I don’t have too, but I can meat at 15#, seem to just store better and doesn’t seem to affect the quality .
      I’m gonna freeze dry fresh, never frozen on Oct 25th. We’ll see how that turns out

      1. Thanks for the tips. And it certainly doesn’t hurt to can a higher pressure for some margin of safety, just-in-case.

        Your choice of meat cuts makes sense – lean. Apparently too much fat can be problematic with jar seal too. And many apparently use bone broth (instead of water) up to 1″ head space.

        13 years on the shelf, and you could not tell it from fresh – that’s good news…

        Approximately 1″ pieces/chucks/strips?

        Do you raw pack, or brown it first and hot pack? Apparently either way works, it’s just a texture difference…

        1. Ken J
          It doesn’t matter to me the size of the pieces. When cutting on the band-saw, getting 1in thick pieces to cot into 1in squares is easy. When boning out other cuts I don’t care about size, it’s the fat that I pay attention to. As long as it is red, no matter the shape or size, it goes into the jar.
          I raw pack/cold pack, pre-cook is to much work. I do 56qts at a time, so prep is a LOT of work, no need to add a step that’s not necessary. I cut up my own meats, so I have control of which meat parts go into the canning bucket. On a 750lb hanging beef, I usually get about 150lbs of meat to trim up and can. I try not to freeze it, just work hard at getting it all canned ASAP, just refrig it. I also save the blood and add it to the jars a little in each jar, blood is flavor. 1 teaspoon salt per qt also helps flavor.
          Head space is usually only 1/2 in, because the meat shrinks during canning. Some will be above the liquid level but it seems to be fine when eating in a stew, ect.
          I know you know this, but be as clean as possible. Garbage in is garbage out.

  28. Ken,

    I usually can chunks of stew beef with a clove of garlic in each jar. Last week we had a taco night and we’ve replaced fresh ground beef with our home canned. The jar we last opened was from 3 years ago. Put it in a skillet to warm it, and added some taco seasoning and a bit of water, and walla… Shredded beef tacos.

    Even before putting in the skillet I always try a piece right from the jar, (sniff & taste test). Texture is fine, and tastes darn good. YMMV…..

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