Canned Food Storage: How To Guide | Build a Stash

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Canned foods will make up a significant portion of your food storage pantry. In this guide, we will show you exactly how to make canned food storage work for you.

Canned food storage is much more complex than stacking a bunch of cans in the back of the pantry for later. Your storage strategy must consider expiration dates, proper food labeling, and easy access. Be sure to keep canned goods in cool places away from sunlight for the best results.

In this guide, we will show you the exact process step-by-step of storing canned food. We will also cover where you should store canned food, the shelf life of many popular foods, and other essential tips to consider. Some prefer home canning as a better solution too. We will provide you with the best strategy when it comes to buying canned goods versus home canning.

With expert opinions and thorough research, this how-to guide will serve as the perfect resource to improve your food storage ability. Our team is committed to providing accurate, verified information gathered from personal experiences and tests too.

Table of contents


How to Store Canned Food

Canned food storage begins with a detailed process to ensure quality and safety. The goal is to maximize your storage capacity, make foods last longer, and identify spoiled foods if necessary.

Step 1: Choose Your Designated Storage Space

This area can be anywhere that accommodates you. The ideal location is a pantry in the kitchen, but it can be anywhere with a convenient access point if you lack space in your kitchen. Other storage options include hallway closets, cabinets, bookshelves, and wide drawers.

Keep it as an easily accessible location with enough space to store all of your foods. And before you know it, you’ll have a perfect canned food storage pantry.

Step 2: Clean Your Storage Space Area

Now that you have decided where to store your food, we must prepare the location correctly. Thoroughly clean all surfaces and surrounding areas. The objective is to maintain clutter-free storage space.

We also recommend vacuuming surrounding areas, wash the floors, and wipe down everything with necessary cleaning chemicals. This also helps to eliminate any risks of rodents or pests coming into your storage area.    

Step 3: Create Your Shopping List

Creating your shopping list requires you to set a budget and be strict with yourself in following it. We often see homeowners go way beyond their budget when shopping, and it does more harm than good. You can always add more items later on.

When you build your shopping list, try to create balanced meals with the foods you choose. Some categories to consider are fruits, vegetables, canned meats, seafood, and juices.

Step 4: Stock Your Pantry and Stack the Shelves

Now is the time to start organizing and storing your foods. Canned goods can get heavy, so it is essential to check the shelves you are using. Make sure they can handle the desired weight because a collapse or damage would be devastating.

Stack cans appropriately. We always recommend labeling cans with the storage date as a safety measure to track your food.

When you buy new cans, do the same and stack them towards the back. This way, you can continuously rotate foods through your storage, keep everything fresh, and avoid food spoiling.

Where to Store Canned Food

There are a few places you can store canned food. It will ultimately depend on whether the can has been opened yet and what the storage purpose is. The pantry remains the most popular and efficient option for canned food storage.


Your pantry or similar storage space is the best location for canned food, especially unopened cans. Look for any dents or damages in the can when storing them away. This can cause tiny holes in the can that make food go bad much quicker.

Your pantry should be a cool, dry place that does not receive any direct sunlight. It should also be a place that remains stable in temperature. If it gets too cold or too hot, your food could spoil faster.

Once a can has been opened, it is no longer eligible for pantry storage. Keep reading to learn what to do with an opened can.


There is no need to store any unopened cans in the refrigerator. However, it is possible to put any remaining contents from an opened can in the fridge for more extended storage.

Avoid using the can as the method of storage in the fridge. It is best to empty the can into a refrigerator-safe container. This helps to reduce your risk of botulism and make the food last longer.


We recommend always avoid storing any canned foods in the freezer. Unopened cans will freeze and potentially burst or explode in your freezer and ruin the entire can.

Canned Food Storage Ideas

We have seen tons of creativity in the past when building canned food storage at home. Many different methods can be done, but finding the unique option that best suits your home requires some brainstorming.

We have a few universal ideas that can be adjusted to perfectly accommodate your home.

DIY Shelves

A new homemade shelving system can be done in a variety of ways. The traditional method is to build a shelving system right on the wall in your basement or add additional shelves inside your pantry for more storage space.

There are also creative methods to consider with wire rack-style shelves. They can hang from the back of doors or be added to your cabinets to fit even more canned goods.

Lazy Susans in the Pantry

Lazy Susans are a convenient way to add extra storage in your pantry without occupying much space to make it possible. You can purchase or make smaller ones that fit securely in the corner areas of the pantry.

By positioning them in the corners of your pantry, closet, or cabinet, you can occupy what would be unused space and turn it into a space full of essential canned goods. This is also an excellent way to rotate your canned foods easily. You don’t need to reach way back into the closet to look for something specific.

Baskets and Boxes

The most efficient way to add more storage space to any area is to hold cans with a basket or box. Magazine holders, woven baskets, and plastic bins are all excellent examples. They fit neatly on your already built shelves, and they hold even more cans in a small amount of space.

Canned Food Storage Shelf Life

There is one primary ingredient that determines precisely how long canned food can last unopened on the shelf. And that is acid.

Low acid canned foods will last between 2-5 years on the shelf. After you open them, they can last for another 3-4 days if stored correctly in the refrigerator. Some popular low acid foods include canned ham (Spam), canned vegetables, canned meat, canned soup, and canned tuna.

High acid canned foods react much differently and have a shorter shelf life. The expected shelf life is up to 18 months, with most foods lasting only one year. Despite that, high acid foods can last longer after opening. They can last up to one week when stored in the refrigerator.

The alternative to canned goods is home canning. We will discuss this process later in the guide, but the average shelf life for these foods is one year.

Here is a chart to show exactly how long each type of food will last.    

Food Type Shelf Life
Canned Tuna 2-5 Years
Canned Fruit 1 Year
Canned Frosting 8-12 Months
Canned Juice 1 Year
Canned Meat 2-5 Years
Canned Gravy 1 Year
Canned Vegetables 2-5 Years
Canned Soup 2-5 Years
Home Canned 1 Year

How to Determine if Canned Food has Gone Bad

Despite the belief that canned food is indestructible, it can go bad. While you can go off the dates on the can, the food tends to last even longer. The best way to determine whether it has gone bad is by opening the can and examining the contents.

Look at the Food

Start by looking at the food. You can feel the can, and if there are any bulges, it could indicate the food is bad. This means that the food either rotted or grew mold, and the gases released caused the can to bulge.

After you open the can, either a liquid or a foam could leak out of the can. This is another clear indication that this can belongs in the trash. There would also be visible mold on the food inside the can.

Smell the Food

If your food doesn’t contain any noticeable physical features of spoilage, there may be a smell to help you determine. Almost always, there will be a rotten or unpleasant odor coming from the opened can if the food has gone bad. It will be a noticeable smell that you can’t miss.

Taste the Food

If the food has passed the first two steps, but you are still unsure, then it might be time to taste the food. We do not recommend executing this step if there is doubt because you could get sick if the food is clearly spoiled.

However, if there are no other signs the food has spoiled, then you can taste it. If it tastes off, that would be your final indication this food has gone bad.  

What is Home Canning?

Home canning is the process of preserving foods like meats, fruits, or vegetables at home with glass jars. After the foods are put into the glass jars, they are vacuum-sealed shut to kill any living organisms and maximize their shelf life.

Home canning does come with risks too. If it is not done correctly, the exposure risk to botulism and food poisoning is much higher than the risk of traditional canned foods.

Canning uses a heating process when sealing the jars. This creates the vacuum seal and kills the microorganisms that could expose your food to risks. When the jar is heated, the food will expand inside the jar to eliminate all air.

Two things that do not hold up well during the home canning process are sugar and acidity. It is best to be sure you perform the procedure correctly, or these foods could become exposed and dangerous to eat.

How to Can My Own Food?

There are two methods to consider when home canning. The first method is water bath canning that is more suitable for high-acid foods. The second method is pressure canning that preserves low acid foods like meats and seafood better.

Despite the benefits of pressure canning, we cannot recommend it due to the dangers during preparation. The USDA advises against the use of pressure cookers for canning. Focus on using the bath canning method because of the more straightforward setup and longer-lasting seal.

Water Bath Canning

Some essential tools you need to make this possible include

  • Glass jars (Mason jars are highly recommended)
  • Boiling water bath or large saucepan
  • Wooden spoon (or equivalent)
  • Ladle
  • Your food ingredients
  • Jar lifter
  • Canning funnel
  • Air bubble tool  

Step 1: Wash Your Jars

Start by washing your jars in hot, soapy water. After washing, rinse them thoroughly.

Step 2: Place Jars into Bath Canner

Jars must be placed into the bath canner or alternative methods like a large pot. Once the jars are in the bath canner, they should be covered with hot water and simmer for 10 minutes. The jars must stay in hot water until they are ready to be filled with food.

Also, you should put the lids in a container with hot water to clean them. Remove them after a few minutes.

Step 3: Pour Food Into Your Jars

Use a large spoon or ladle to pour food into the jar. Leave a small amount of room at the top of the jar. It is important not to overfill the jars.

You can use a utensil to move the food around and remove any air bubbles.

Step 4: Wipe the Rims of the Jars

Use a damp cloth to wipe the rims of the jars thoroughly. After doing so, screw on the lids tightly. Double-check the seal to be safe.

Step 5: Move Jars Back into the Bath Canner

After the jar is packed and sealed, move it back into the bath canner. Do not let any of the jars touch one another. As more jars are added, it might be necessary to remove water too.

Step 6: Boil Jars

After every jar is filled and placed back into the bath canner, cover the jars with 1-inch of water and cover the canner. Allow the water to boil for about 10 minutes fully.  

Step 7: Allow Jars to Cool

After the jars are done boiling, remove them with a towel and let them cool. When the jar is removed from the bath canner, they will make a loud pinging noise to indicate they have been sealed.

Step 8: Store Jars

After the jars finish cooling, you can test the seals by pressing on the jar lids. The lid should remain tight, but if there is a movement, that indicates a seal has not been formed.

Move your jars to the storage area. They can last for up to a year in a cool, dry place with steady temperatures and minimal sunlight.  

Home Canning Tips

Home canning requires precision and a well-thought process to perform perfectly. Consider these tips when preparing your setup in your own home.

  • Fresh produce seals best. Fruits and vegetables that are aging or bruised shouldn’t be sealed. It is best to only seal fresh, newly purchased produce for home canning.
  • Always wait until the jars are hot before you fill them.
  • Listen for the popping sound when sealing your jars. This is an excellent indication of whether you were successful or not.
  • Avoid overfilling the jars. It will eliminate your ability to seal the jar and ruin your entire process properly.  

Home Canning vs. Canned Food: What’s Better?

Both options are reliable canned food storage solutions. Choosing the better one for you depends on what you need from your food storage. We recommend using both when building out a thorough canned food storage pantry.

Pre-bought canned food will provide longer-lasting shelf life, an easier storage process, and lower costs. However, you have limited options for the types of food you can store compared to home canning.

Home canning is a more challenging, time-consuming process, but the list of foods you can store is extensive. You have access to plenty of recipes that cater specifically to your family. It is a more healthy way too.

Learning to home can is a way to become more self-sufficient too. The list of foods doesn’t end, and once you learn the process, experimenting with new foods becomes a hobby that increases your canned food storage and emergency preparedness.

Overall, we recommend combining the two processes to build canned food storage with great variety.