How do you determine how long a can of food will last? Actually, it’s kind of hard to guess, but here are a few guidelines when trying to determine the shelf life of your canned foods:
Most sources say that home-canned foods will store safely for at least one year.
With other food items, the level of acid in the food is the critical element for determining how long it may store. Low-acid foods last longer on your shelves than foods with higher amounts of acid. Some sources say all commercially canned food should last at least two years. Here are some more specific recommendations:
Surprising to some, canned meats can last the longest. Most sources say they will keep for 2 to 5 years. Some sources say they will last even longer. I found a shocking story about a can of meat that was 118 years old. It was opened, analyzed, and found to still have most of the nutrients. It was still good after more than 100 years! You may not choose to eat canned meats that are this old, but likely yours will last more than the recommended five years. Other low-acid foods are soups without tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, pumpkin, and peas.
For best quality, use high-acidic foods within one year or so. Foods in this category are tomatoes, fruit, and foods with a lot of vinegar in them. Still, many of these canned foods will still be edible after years worth of storage, even if they are not at the peak of quality and nutrition.
So what does it mean when we learn that something will last “at least two years?” How long will it last after the two years is over? Again, this depends on who you ask. Some people will say that you should discard the cans at this point, but most will tell you that canned foods can last for a lot longer, even years and years longer. You’ll just have to use your own discretion and inspect your cans carefully before eating the food inside. Read the next article in the canned food series, “Canned Food Storage Safety” to know what to look for when inspecting cans for safety.