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When it comes to stocking up on pantry essentials, everyone knows that there's nothing as convenient as canned foods — these staples are not only affordable and easy to cook with, they’re also basically a must-have if you’re filling up your pantry with non-perishable items that have a long shelf life (especially in the case of an emergency). But if the back of your pantry is filled with old cans of soup, green beans, and anything else that you bought quite a while ago, you might be wondering: Exactly how long does canned food last, and is it safe to eat canned food beyond its printed expiration date?
Here’s the good news: Canned goods actually last indefinitely if they're kept in good condition, according to the USDA. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they’ll still taste optimal ten years from now! There are actually several factors that limit the shelf life of canned goods, but in general, foods that are more acidic will expire sooner, while low-acid canned foods will actually last for longer. If you’re wondering about specific canned foods, though, here’s how long they’ll last on your shelf, as well as in the refrigerator after you open them.
Does canned food go bad?
Canned foods that are kept in good condition are actually safe to eat indefinitely, according to the USDA. However, there are several factors that may affect their shelf life, such as can corrosion and rusting, high temperatures, and other container problems. Over the years, many canned foods will experience taste and texture changes, and may eventually lose their nutritional value — which is why it’s recommended to consume different types of canned products by a certain time for the best quality. (Accordingly, the “use-by” or “best-by” dates that are often printed on cans are for quality, not safety.)
So is it safe to eat canned food past its “expiration” date? While canned goods past their “best-by” date may not taste optimal, there’s actually no real health risk in consuming canned goods as long as they remain in good condition. Just make sure that you never buy bulging, rusted, leaking, or dented cans, and that you always store canned goods in a cool, dry place — in fact, the USDA says to never store them in any place exposed to high or low temperatures, or in places such as under the sink, above or beside the stove, or in a damp garage or basement.
And of course, after opening canned foods, make sure to store leftovers and unused portions in the refrigerator; for best preservation of quality and flavor, you should store it in a glass or a plastic storage container.
How long does canned food last?
Shelf-stable canned ham (such as Spam) lasts 2 to 5 years on the shelf. After opening, it will generally be good for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.
Low Acid Canned Goods
Low acid canned goods include items such as canned meat and poultry, stews, pasta products, and soups (except for tomato soup), as well as vegetables such as potatoes, corn, carrots, spinach, beans, beets, peas, and pumpkin. According to the USDA, these canned goods will last for 2 to 5 years on the shelf after they’ve been canned, and will last 3 to 4 days if you store it in the refrigerator after opening.
High Acid Canned Goods
High acidic canned goods include juices, tomatoes, and fruit products (such as grapefruit, pineapple, apples, peaches, pears, plums, and all berries), as well as pickles, sauerkraut, and all foods treated with vinegar-based sauces or dressings. These foods are good for 12 to 18 months on the shelf, but after opening, will last 5 to 7 days in the refrigerator.
Home Canned Foods
If you’re canning your own foods at home, you should know that these foods will last up to a year on the shelf. Before using, though, remember to boil 10 minutes for high-acid foods and 20 minutes for low-acid foods as a precaution (even if you detect no signs of spoilage). After opening, your home canned foods will last around 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.