Canned food safety

Knowing what to look for can help determine if canned food is safe to eat.

Canned goods can often fall under the “shelf stable” food category. This means that they can be safely stored at room temperature and are considered non-perishable food products. This can include canned tuna, pasta, jerky, spices, canned vegetables, fruit and an assortment of others. These foods do not have to be refrigerated until after opening. It is a common misconception that all canned foods will last forever.

There are multiple reasons canned goods do not last forever. Corrosion can happen after several years of the food being in the can. This happens to all canned food, but especially in ones with high acidic content like tomatoes. Can corrosion will change the taste, color, consistency and eventually lower the nutritional value. Temperature can also affect the quality of the canned good. It is harmful to the can when temperatures reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. There are special cans designed for sale in the tropical areas because of this.

It is important to store your canned goods and other shelf stable products somewhere where it is cool and dry. Canned goods are sold with “Sell by” or ‘Use by” dates, but this is actually a quality date. In other words, the contents may decrease in quality, nutritional value or appearance, but it may still be safe to eat well beyond the date. If you have a sealed can in your pantry for 2 years or more, is it safe to eat? Possibly – if it was stored in proper conditions and is not damaged. However, if the can looks dirty or rusty, is bulging, or the seal looks like it could be leaking – do not take the chance, as bacteria could be present. It is important to rotate your shelf stable food, and if you are questioning something due to a visible irregularity of the can or is notably beyond the due date, Michigan State University Extension recommends playing it safe and throw it out.

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