Canned meat can last long, but you may get food poisoning from eating expired meat. What is the shelf life of canned meat?
Canned meat can either outlast the expiration date or expire early, depending on how you store it. You don't need to store it anywhere cold, but you should keep it away from high temperatures.
Canned meat can last two, five, ten, or even thirty years using proper storage methods. Canned meat lasts longer than canned fruits, vegetables, fish, beans, soup, or broth. Canning is, in many ways, better than other methods of preserving meat.
Since canned meat can provide essential protein and nutrition, you should include it in your emergency food supply. It is relatively cheap, lasts for years, and will keep people healthy in any situation where food becomes scarce.
I have tried canned meat that I kept in the basement for ten years, and it still tasted good. Many people report that canned meat can last much longer than that. The most important thing is to keep it away from very hot temperatures.
The Advantages of Canned Meat
In an emergency, you don't want to be stuck eating only rice and beans. If you aren't getting enough protein or nutrition, you may get sick.
Rice and beans are good enough if you face a power outage that lasts a week. However, a more serious crisis might occur. If something goes very wrong, you will need more nutritious emergency food to stay healthy.
Canned meat is a great idea, as are canned vegetables and fruits. Canned meat is one of the best ways to get protein and vitamins during an emergency. Canned meat also helps you prepare a meal quickly.
Why Does Canned Meat Not Go Bad Quickly?
Meat is heated to kill all of the microorganisms in it. If none of the bacteria survive, they cannot slowly grow until they spoil the food.
The meat is then packaged in a metal can. The can must be sterilized to kill all of the bacteria, and it has to be airtight to prevent even a few bacteria from getting through after it is sealed.
This is similar to how milk and butter are made safer and longer-lasting for consumers. Nearly all milk and butter sold in the United States is pasteurized, or in other words, heated (but not boiled) to kill all of the bacteria. If the food is never heat-treated, a small number of microorganisms can multiply very fast and ruin the food.
Acidity and Food Storage
Canned meat lasts a long time because of its low acid content. Since canned tomatoes or grapes contain more acid, they don't last nearly as long, usually only one and a half years.
Heat Affects Food Expiration
Two years is not a minimum, and canned meat may expire before then if you don't store it properly. If you store canned meat near a heat source or in a room that is hot for most of the year, it will go bad quickly. If your can is dented, the meat might go bad early.
Canned Meats Compared to Other Canned Foods
Canned meats last a long time, even compared to most other non-perishable items. Canned meats last anywhere from a few years to a few decades; other canned foods don't last nearly as long. Some examples of canned food's shelf lives are:
- Canned fruit lasts for 1-2 years
- Canned vegetables last for 3-8 years
- Canned meat lasts for 4-30 years, by far the longest
- Canned beans last for 3-6 years
- Canned soups last for 2-4 years
- Canned broths last for 3-5 years
- Canned fish lasts for 3-6 years
While canned meat lasts longer than other canned foods, some other non-perishables last longer. For example, sugar more or less lasts forever if you store it properly.
When Did People Start Using Canned Meat?
Canned meat of a modern kind became common during the US Civil War. The army needed canned goods that would last long enough for armies marching long distances. Soldiers carried cans of salt, sugar, coffee, and even bread.
This technology improved in the first world war (lighter canned meats were produced), and in the 1960s, dehydrated meats were created to maximize what soldiers could carry around.
Are Canned Meats Pre-Cooked?
Yes, canned meats are almost always pre-cooked. Canned raw meat could go bad quickly, which would defeat the purpose of canned meat. Meat has to be heated to sterilize it; otherwise, bacteria will multiply, and the meat will spoil quickly.
Can You Make Canned Meat Yourself?
Yes, if you know what you are doing, you can heat-treat some meat and put it into sterilized cans yourself. This is not for everyone as the meat will go bad if you do it wrong.
Make sure you use a pressure canner to preserve meat. Other types of canners won't do the job if you are canning meat.
Is Improperly Canned Meat Dangerous?
Yes, you could get very sick if you preserve your meat improperly and then eat it later. Botulism (food poisoning) is one of the more dangerous possibilities.
Many people end up in the hospital or even die of food poisoning every year, so making canned meat yourself might not be a good idea. You can usually trust a large company to sterilize the meat properly.
Don't push your luck with expired meat. If some of the meat in your emergency food storage is expired, get rid of it and replace it with new cans. Check on everything in your food storage once in a while and make sure it is still good.
How Can You Preserve Meat Without a Refrigerator?
There are many ways to store meat at room temperature or not much below that. Canning is one of the best ways, but it is not the only way. Some of the other options are:
- Curing and salting meat, which is one of the oldest methods
- Dehydrating meat
- Freeze drying
- Brining (using a mix of salt, brown sugar, and water to preserve your meat)
- Preserving your meat in lard
- Preserving your meat in sugar syrup
About THE AUTHOR
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.Read More About Mark Walker