Cans of meat and vegetables store well, and are convenient to keep on hand for quick meals. Canned foods remain safe to eat for many months or up to five years, depending on the canning method and the type of food. Learn the best storage practices to prevent spoilage and prevent you from buying more food than you can use in a reasonable time frame.
Commercially Dated Cans
Canned foods may have one or more dates stamped on them, which you can use as a guide for safe storage. “Sell by” dates do not indicate freshness, but purchase goods before this date to ensure best quality. Discard cans that have surpassed their “use by” date. Some cans may have “best if used by” stamped on them instead. You can use these cans past this date, but they may not be of the best quality.
Commercially canned meats and vegetables stored in a cool 50- to 70-degree Fahrenheit pantry have the longest storage life. Meats and low-acid vegetables, such as beans, corn, carrots and vegetable medleys, store well for two to five years, although you should follow “use by” date recommendations to ensure that the foods are still good. Tomatoes and other high-acid foods, including many fruits, are good for up to 18 months. The acids in these foods can react with the can, causing it to corrode or degrade more quickly than cans containing meat and low-acid vegetables.
Home Canned Food
Home canned foods may not spoil for years, but to ensure that the food is good and safe to eat, use all home-canned foods within a year of preserving. Store these canned foods in a cool pantry just as you would commercially canned items. Most home-canned meats and vegetables are packaged in clear jars, so keep them out of sunlight so the light doesn't affect the contents. Only store properly sealed jars. The raised bump on the lid is completely depressed when a jar is sealed correctly.
A Few Concerns
Bulging or leaking metal cans indicate that the food is no longer safe to eat. Home canned jars may leak around the lid or begin to foam if they spoil prematurely. If there is visible mold or an off odor when you open the can, do not eat it. Although you can eat unheated commercially canned food, heat home-canned food before use to further ensure that it's safe. Some foodborne illnesses, like botulism, aren't detectable and can be fatal. If you suspect that a canned item is spoiled, handle it with gloves and dispose of it promptly.
Jenny Harrington has been a freelance writer since 2006. Her published articles have appeared in various print and online publications. Previously, she owned her own business, selling handmade items online, wholesale and at crafts fairs. Harrington's specialties include small business information, crafting, decorating and gardening.