How Long Does Canned Food Last? | Build a Stash

Whether you want to combat inflation or prepare for a zombie apocalypse, no food storage stockpile is complete without canned food, but how long does it last?

Canned food can last 3 to 10 years depending on the type of food in the can and its storage conditions. In general, low-acid canned food items such as meats and vegetables will have a prolonged shelf life if they are kept in a cool and dry place away from direct sunlight.

After extensively researching food storage and survivalist guidelines, I have gathered enough information to determine how long canned food lasts. My research has indicated that stable storage conditions are the best way to guarantee the shelf life of canned food items.

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Does Canned Food Expire?

Yes, canned food will eventually expire. Much like with all food, canned goods will not last forever, but the expiration date can often be misleading.

The truth is that canned food can last a lot longer than the labeled date on the can, as this is more of a recommendation than an expiration date. In most situations, if you open canned food past its expiration date, it should be safe to eat.

With that said, the tricky thing about canned food is determining how long it will actually last. There are a number of factors that play into this, and we need to consider the contents of the food, as well as the conditions that it’s kept in to determine how long it can last.

How Long Does Canned Food Last?

If canned food is kept in ideal conditions, it should last anywhere from 3 to 10 years. Most canned food items have a printed expiration date that will claim the food will last around 2 to 3 years after the purchase date.

Although you should always inspect the food before you consume it, odds are the canned food is probably safe to eat after the labeled date. You need to assess canned food on a case-by-case basis, as there is no guarantee that each food item will have the same prolonged shelf life.

Food preppers and survivalists are able to push the expiration date years past what is printed on the can by buying the right food items and storing them properly. On the other hand, some canned food items do not last nearly as long, which is why you want to be careful when planning a food storage stockpile.

Which Canned Foods Last the Longest?

If you are creating a food storage system at home, it’s important to do your homework and pick the right items. There is a lot to consider, and making mistakes can be very unforgiving in an emergency scenario.

Canned food items are a necessity in so many prepper’s homes, and for good reason. A lot of the canned food that you see in the store can last for years if you know what to buy and how to store it correctly. These canned food items have been known to last the longest in food storage systems.

  • Canned Meat - 4 to 10 years
  • Canned Fish - 3 to 6 years
  • Canned Vegetables - 3 to 8 years
  • Canned Beans - 3 to 6 years
  • Canned Soup - 2 to 5 years

How Long Does Canned Food Last After Opening?

Although canned foods have a prolonged shelf life, they do not last very long once they are open. As soon as you open a canned food item, you have roughly 3 to 5 days before it goes bad, provided that you keep it in the fridge.

While a lot of brands use preservatives to push the expiration date of canned foods longer, this rarely does much good once the can is open.

How to Make Canned Food Last Longer?

If you are planning a food storage stockpile, you need to create a system that you know you can count on for years to come. A major part of this has to do with understanding how to maximize the shelf life of your goods.

Most preppers avoid anything that does not have a prolonged shelf life, but even a few years can be very short for a food storage system. Your canned food items may only last for 1 or 3 years if you do not take proper precautions when storing them.

Stable Storage Conditions

The shelf life of your food is heavily influenced by the storage conditions that you keep it in. A lot of people are often convinced that because canned food is canned that it will last forever, regardless of how you store it.

Unfortunately, that is simply not true, and even canned food requires ideal storage conditions if you want to maximize its shelf life. There are certainly some do’s and don’ts when it comes to storing canned food, but in general, the conditions should be:

  • Cool
  • Clean
  • Dry
  • Away from direct sunlight

Given that canned food items are contained, they should be relatively safe from moisture. However, keeping your canned food in a warm environment may considerably lower the predicted expiration date. You should store canned food at 50-70 F if you want to get the best possible shelf life. With that said, if the temperature stays below 85 F, the quality of the food should not be affected too much.

Low Acid Canned Food

The contents of canned food play a critical role in determining how long it will last. I’ve found that low-acid canned food items tend to yield the best results for maximizing shelf life - with most products lasting a minimum of 3 to 5 years.

Low-acid canned foods are a go-to pick amongst preppers as they are much more reliable for long-term food storage. Some of the most common low-acid canned food items are:

  • Canned Vegetables
  • Canned Beans
  • Canned Meats

Buying canned vegetables, beans, and meats is the way to go if you are planning a food storage stockpile, as high-acid goods have a much shorter shelf life. The most common acidic canned foods are fruit and tomatoes, as these items may only last as little as 12 to 18 months in your household.

What Happens to Canned Food After the Expiration Date?

A predicament that many survivalists find themselves in at some point is examining a can of food that is past its expiration date and wondering if it is still good to eat. More often than not, canned food that is past its expiration date is safe to eat, so long as the can is undamaged and has been kept in ideal storage conditions.

With that said, depending on the contents of the can and how long the food is past its expiration date, you may not want to eat it. Most canned food will start to lose its quality and taste before it actually goes bad. This implies that the food may technically be safe to eat but the flavor may be off.

The USDA has even insisted that some canned food items may have an indefinite shelf-life under the right conditions. While this may be true, that does not mean that you should eat old canned food once it starts to taste bad.

Also, keep in mind that old canned food will start to lose its nutritional value. If you wait years after the expiration date to eat the canned food, you can expect some of the nutrients to be lost.

Is Eating Old Canned Food Dangerous?

Technically, no, but you should still approach canned food cautiously if it’s old. The most important thing to confirm is that the can is not damaged, as it may be dangerous to consume if it is.

It’s also important to find out how the canned food was stored over the years. If it’s been kept in a cool basement with stable storage conditions, it should be safe to eat. Naturally, be sure to check if there are any obvious signs of decontamination once you open the can, such as a foul smell, mold, or sour taste.

About THE AUTHOR

Mark Walker

Mark Walker

I have over a decade of experience in food and beverage management, including a ServSafe food safety qualification. As part of this qualification, I have been professionally trained in safe food storage.

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