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How Long Does Canned Food Last: Food Safety 101

The most viable solution for storing your favorite baked beans for a longer period, sending edibles to your family living abroad, and serving your aunt who gives you a surprise visit is canned food. Now you might be wondering how long does canned food last? To find the answer, you have to look at the basic facts about canned food.

What Is Canning?

Canning is one of the food preservation techniques that involve storing food in the airtight container, and right before sealing the can, the food content has to be processed. There are various methods you can use to preserve or process food like pasteurization, boiling, dehydration, vacuum treatment, or addition of brine or sugar syrup.

The Art of Preservation

Why do food manufacturers and companies can the food? There is only one purpose, and that is to increase the shelf life of food content! Most of the food items can be spoiled easily since bacteria and fungi love to attack the food especially when it is full of water.

The food preservation process limits the chances of the growth of the said microorganisms. For example, dehydration removes the moisture content which is the best medium for bacterial growth, while brine or sugar syrup maintains the pressure gradient to limit the bacterial movement across the food cells.

Thus, the canning provides maximum safety to your food against these culprits which in turn extends the shelf life of food. This way, canned food can be stored for a longer time than the un-canned ones.

The Science of the "Expiry Date"

The international agencies and laws regarding food quality like Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Hazard Analysis for Critical Control Point (HACCP) have made it mandatory to notify the customers about the expiry date. These organizations and policies assert that all canned food should contain an expiry label or date stamps on the containers. That way, the customers will know how long does canned food last.

As such, after canning the food, food processing companies paste a label of the expiry date on cans. It is the date after which the canned food begins to deteriorate, and this varies according to the type of food it contains.

Most canned food items can be stored for a year, while others can last for a longer period of time. This is why you can find canned food with up to five years of expiry.

How Long Does Canned Food Last?

According to the US Department of Agriculture, there are two types of canned items that have different shelf lives.

  • Acid-Rich Food: Canned food items that are rich in acid, like citrus juice, pickled food, food with vinegar, fruit such as peaches, apples, and pears, and tomato-based food such as salsa, canned tomatoes, and tomato sauce, will last for up to one and half years to expire. After you open the can, make sure to discard it after seven days of storing it in the refrigerator.
  • Low-Acid Food: The vegetables, meat, fishes, and other items that lack acid can last for five years. However, the USDA recommends a shelf life of two to three years. They can also stay longer in your fridge after you open them.

What If It Is Expired?

According to the Canned Food Alliance, canned items maintain their quality for at least two years after they have been processed. On the other hand, the National Center for Home Food Preservation's recommendation is that enough food for a year should be preserved.

Most of the food quality experts suggest that it is better to use "best by" dates instead of the expiry date since it indicates when a customer may notice a decrease in food quality. That said, it is also great to know what happens once the canned good is expired. Here are some possible clues:

1. Unspoiled Appearance

Canned food items are sterile, so generally, bacteria are not present, but eventually, the taste and texture will deteriorate. Most of the time, it is difficult to identify spoilage in the quality of canned food from the appearance.

Thus, if you are still consuming a canned food after its expiry date, do not be deceived by its fine appearance. The chances are that you might suffer from food poisoning or any other digestive disorder.

2. Broken Cans

Cans are lined with the protective aluminum coating over steel body, but sometimes, the hermetic seal and protective lining inside the container can be broken. The interior lining of cans prevents the can's metal from coming in direct contact with its contents, so in case of can rusting, the food can react with aluminum or steel. Bacteria can also start to grow and release gases that make the can bulge. Hence, in any case, do not use leaked, rusted, or dented cans.

3. Refrigeration

A common practice in most homes is that if you don't want to waste your delicious chicken broth can, you refrigerate it after opening. However, doing so gives bacteria and fungi a chance to attack the food content, especially if it is rich in acid. Therefore, it is always recommended to use the can immediately once it has been opened or at least transfer it in another container before placing it inside the refrigerator.


There is no doubt that canning is one of the amazing inventions of science. Be it for safe storing, food shipping, or emergency cooking for your uninvited guests—canned food items are the need of the era. In fact, it is common nowadays, and canned food is almost always available in every household.

With the innovation of technology, the food processing companies are also striving to optimize the quality and shelf life. Plus, the agencies of food quality assurance also revise their policies now and then, so you also need to keep an eye on that.

Do note though that we should be careful with the expiry dates and labels of the canned items. It is recommended always to follow the rule of can rotation, i.e., use the older cans prior to the newer ones. The precautionary measures like this can save your stomach and your overall health!

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