How to read the codes on your canned foods.

I find the best sites when I’m looking for something else!

The other day, doing a search for something I don’t even remember now, I ran across this page at on reading can codes. Now if you’re wondering just how long that can of beans has been sitting in the back of your pantry, you have a way to find out.

But what, you might be asking about now, is a can code? Well, it’s a packing code used by the manufacturer for tracking purposes. That way they can more easily ensure their stock gets rotated, and if there’s a recall it’s possible to know exactly what cans are involved.

The thing is, these codes aren’t meant to be used by the consumer. If you grab a can of corn out of your cupboard you’ll quickly see the code on the top or bottom. It might be printed on the lid, or stamped into the metal so that you’ll feel it more easily than see it. You’ll notice it doesn’t make much sense. To the manufacturer, however, it contains a lot of important information, everything from the date of manufacture to where it was made.

The encoded dates represent the date the can was filled and processed. They’re not “use by” dates, although they can be useful if you aren’t sure how old is a particular can.

(By the way: As a rule of thumb, acidic canned foods like pineapple and tomatoes can be stored for 12 to 18 months. Low-acid foods, like meat, beans and most vegetables, can be stored much longer – 2 to 5 years. Do discard any can that is bulging or rusting, however, as the contents are almost sure to have gone bad. After all, isn’t avoiding food poisoning worth $1.19?)

While some manufacturers have switched to open dating, which is where they have a plainly understood date of manufacture on the can, those that still use closed dating can be wary of sharing that information. In looking around, however, I found that Walton Feed has a page of can lid codes as well as one on closed dating codes.