Canned Food Shelf Life – Is It Really Safe One Day And Then Bad The Next?
Are you getting ready to throw out that can of green beans just because it’s a week past its expiration date?
Maybe you should. Why chance eating something that could make you sick? If the label says it’s expired then IT’S EXPIRED. Right?
In normal times, that’s fine. I won’t argue. It’s hard to argue taking any extra risks (no matter how minimal) if the downside will only amount in a couple of pennies. I’m right there with ya.
But what about when times are not normal? Would you be so quick to toss your expired can of green beans if food was as scarce as H2O in Death Valley?
After SHTF, those expiration date guidelines might not seem so meaningful. Trust me, extreme hunger will blur those lines.
What if that can of expired green beans was the only thing you’ve had to eat for 3 days. What if that can of expired green beans meant some food for your starving family?
I bet you’ll still toss that green bean can in the trash but it will be empty of all its delicious contents. You will eat it and it will taste amazing.
And that about the chance of getting sick? There’s still that risk but depending upon several factors, that risk is way overstated.
Are Expiration Dates An Exact Science? The simple answer is NO. How can they be? There are too many variables outside of a food manufacturer’s control to come up with any sort of reliable expiration date science.
The 2 biggest variables that affect canned food storage shelf life are:
1 – Temperature exposure
Extremely high temperatures will compromise most food. Unless you are turning grapes into raisins or actually cooking your food for consumption, you don’t want to your store canned goods in high heat environments.
What might be even worse is large temperature variations. If the food is exposed to high temperatures, then low temperatures, and then back to high temperatures, its shelf life will be compromised. Unheated, uninsulated garages or attics = terrible storage locations.
2 – Can Integrity
The second variable to watch out for is can damage. If a can was dropped, crushed, or dented in any way then the integrity of the can comes into question. Damaged cans might have seal issues.
If a can is damaged then the odds go up significantly of air penetrating the can. Organic matter (food) exposed to air will tend to mold. Moldy food is bad and can make you sick.
Of these two variables, the food manufacturer can only really control the second one. And only before it ships. Once it’s shipped from the canning factory, they no longer control this variable.
A forklift could puncture the can during loading. It could get crushed in the trailer when pallets of canned goods shift around in traffic. A 17-year-old stock boy could accidently drop it when distracted by a cute girl from his class saying “Hi”. Your toddler might decide to toss it out of your grocery cart, just for fun.
These are just variables that food manufactures have no way to control.
So if you were in the same shoes as the food manufacturer and you’d be held responsible (i.e. sued) for someone eating your food after the expiration date, would you choose a conservative or liberal label date?
Would you err on the side of a shorter expiration date? Or would you err on the side of a longer one?
Yeah, exactly, you would err heavily on the side of a shorter date. The shorter the better.
Plus, by erring on the side of a shorter date the food manufacturers are helping to sell more.
That’s the definition of a Win/Win (for the manufacturer).
How’s that? If people follow their expiration dates and the dates are short (a couple of years) then people will either:
1) Consume the product faster
2) Toss out the old stuff and buy new
Either way, it should equal more sales of their product.
Let’s say someone purchases their canned food product and it said it was good for 20 years. A lot of people might just let that sit on their shelf for a very long time. If enough people did that, then the food manufacturers are hurting repeat sales volumes.
Another clue that canned food shelf life dates are just arbitrary suggestions is that they now don’t even say “Expiration Date”. Nowadays the majority of cans state “Best By” or “Best If Used By”.
This is a dead giveaway of the canned food expiration date hoax.
Of course, fresher food is better. No one is arguing that fact. However, not being “best” and not being consumable are miles apart.
This is proof that the dates labeled on canned food are arbitrary and not an exact science.
How About Some Proof From The Past
In 1865, a steamboat loaded with canned provisions left port for the mining camps in Montana. Unfortunately, it had too many provisions and the weight of the vessel caused it to sink early on in its journey.
It sat at the bottom of the Missouri River for nearly a century. Amongst the provisions were cans of plum tomatoes, mixed vegetables, peaches, oysters, and honey.
In 1974, several scientists at the NFPA checked the content of the cans. They found that the products still had significant nutritional value and zero microbial growth.
In fact, the chemists found that these canned goods were just as safe to eat in 1974 as they were to eat 100 years earlier.
Now you know expiration dates are essentially meaningless when it comes to canned food. But does that mean canned foods can never go bad? No…they definitely can.
You must learn how to tell the difference between canned foods that safe to consume and those that are not.
Carefully Checking The Expiration Dates On Canned Goods At The Time Of Purchase
If you are stockpiling foods for SHTF, then it is important to know which canned foods give you the most bang for your buck.
If you are going to invest in canned goods then it is best to check the expiration dates when purchasing. Just as you might with a loaf of bread or gallon of milk. Select the cans from the back that have the very furthest out date.
This doesn’t mean that you have to discard them the day they expire. It’s just selecting the newest and freshest product available at that time of purchase.
What Are Some Of The Longest Shelf Life Foods?
When preparing for long-term survival, you’ll want to choose the longest shelf life foods.
In general, canned meat shelf life tends to be the longest.
Meats such as beef stew, Spam, tuna fish, etc. tend to have quite long shelf lives.
But remember canned food shelf life has as much to do with how you store it, as which foods you choose to buy.
You can significantly increase the canned food shelf life of soup by storing it correctly.
Canned Goods Storage Tips
To prolong your canned food shelf life, focus on adequate can good storage. Keeping foods fresh past normal shelf life depends on the conditions in which you keep these food items.
1. To begin with, never buy the dented cans.
Sure many people say that there is no problem with food from a dented can. While this may be true if eaten right away, if you are stockpiling food goods, a dented can is simply a liability.
Don’t settle for any can or even jar lid that is even slightly compromised. Compromised cans can lead to bacterial growth over time. This can be more important than the expiration dates on canned goods.
2. Canned food shelf life can be significantly affected by moisture.
It is important to realize that humidity must be kept low in the storage environment. Dry foods can pick up moisture that can lead to mold and bacterial growth. Moisture can also lead to the breakdown of packaging containers, such as aluminum or tin cans.
As these containers oxidize and rust, they can affect canned food shelf life.
3. Mid-range temperatures are best to improve canned goods shelf life.
Shoot for temperatures ranging from about 40 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
A study conducted by Brigham Young on wheat over the long term showed that wheat kept in a cool storage, such as a basement, would be edible for years.
Wheat stored in a hot environment such as an attic would only be acceptable for consumption for five years. On the flip side, canned food shelf life can be significantly decreased if items become frozen even if just for a short period.
4. The shelf life of canned food can also be negatively affected by direct sunlight.
While you may enjoy laying in the sun and baking, your canned goods won’t take very kindly to this process. Heat from direct sunlight will speed up the deterioration of the cans and the contents as well.
Canned Goods Expiration Dates
Canned food expiration dates don’t mean you have to throw the food out. Yet they can serve as a guideline to help you rotate your usage of these products.
They can also serve to let you know which products last longer than others. Using them simply as a reference can be helpful, as long as they are not taken too seriously.
You will not die if your green beans are a month or even a year past their expiration date if you are storing your canned goods properly to ensure that these foods last as long as possible. But how do you know if the canned goods on your shelf are still safe to consume years past the expiration date?
There are some tell-tale signs to let you know if the shelf life on canned food has truly passed.
The following are some signs that the food in those cans may become contaminated.
1. Don’t just look at the expiration dates on canned food.
Look at the cans themselves. Are they dented, rusted, or bulging?
These are signs that the food items contained in them have become compromised.
Also, the shelf life of canned food can be compromised in jars that have signs of corrosion on the lid and liquid seeping under the lid of the jar. Jars with this appearance will most likely need to be discarded.
2. The nose really does know.
Smell is one of the biggest indicators for spoiled food. So if you are concerned about the shelf life of canned soup, for instance, simply open it up and take a big whiff.
A bad odor will serve as a good indicator and will let you know in most cases if the contents of the can are bad.
3. A few more signs to look out for.
Discoloration. Although, by itself this might not be anything to fear, with any other signs of contamination present, it’s best to discard this food.
Eggs that float in water should not be consumed.
Also, any can or jar that spurts liquid upon opening is a good sign that the food has become compromised.
Mold is another indicator that the food has spoiled.
The Bottom Line On The Food Expiration Date Myth
It is important to realize that the dates on canned goods simply don’t matter.
What really matters is what is in the can. If canned goods are stored in ideal conditions and are taken good care of, they can live well past the expiration on the can.
So when you ask yourself, “what is the shelf life of canned food?”
Keep in mind that the food is fine to eat for years to come. Using some basic common sense tips can go a long way in helping to feed your family through the tough times.
If you have concerns about the quality of the contents of a can of food you are about to consume then err on the side of caution. It is still better to be safe than sorry. But don’t hesitate to use your five senses to assess the shelf life of canned food. This is a better way to tell if canned foods are still safe to eat than any arbitrary date printed on the packaging.
And as always preppers, Be Safe, Be Smart, Be Prepared!