How long does home-preserved food last?

Know the shelf life of home-canned and frozen food to avoid food waste and maximize nutrition.

Don't let your preserved food go to waste, enjoy it when it tastes great and is nutritious.
Don't let your preserved food go to waste, enjoy it when it tastes great and is nutritious.

May brings flowers and seed magazines stuffed into your mailbox. It is also the perfect time of year to start planning your garden with canning season in mind. Preserving food is a great way to avoid wasting food when you have more fresh produce than you need right away. Just make sure you are able to use all your canned or frozen food within the recommended time.

How long do home-canned foods last?

If foods are preserved correctly, they are safe for years but the quality and nutritional value decreases with the passing of time. The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends only preserving enough food to last one year. So that your home-canned foods taste great and are nutritious when you decide to eat them.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a planning guide (page 32) that may be helpful when working out how much food to can or freeze to meet your needs for the year. 

Choosing the right canning equipment

It is critical to can foods safely using the right equipment. Use a steam canner or water bath canner for high-acid foods and a pressure canner for low-acid foods. Just within the last couple of years, atmospheric steam canners have been approved to use with high-acid foods. It is also important to use research-based recipes and follow directions carefully. Research-based recipes can be found in updated Ball Blue Books, So Easy to Preserve, the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning and Preserving. Michigan State University Extension also offers an online home food preservation course.

How long do frozen foods last?

Frozen foods lose moisture the longer they are in the freezer. If the food was correctly frozen and kept at it zero degrees Fahrenheit it is safe indefinitely, however the quality and nutritional value deteriorates, just as it does with canned foods. The USDA has developed the Food Keeper app for smartphones, as well as a website, that lists the shelf life of various foods.

Tips for using up preserved food

  • Home preserved food makes great gifts. If you do have a bountiful harvest, can the extra produce, put a pretty label on the jars and share with your loved ones.
  • Are you in need of an appetizer but don’t have time to make anything?  Pull the dilly beans from your pantry or get the pepper jelly out and combine it with cream cheese to make an amazing dip.
  • Consider your home preserved foods when planning your meals. This helps ensure that you are using up your stored items in a timely way and creates less waste. As you make your grocery list, you may notice cost savings as you pull from your pantry rather than purchasing additional food.   
  • Use your home preserved foods in the search cue when looking for a recipe online. This will bring up unique, nutritious recipes utilizing your preserved items. Use pickled beets in a salad recipe, add frozen peas to a casserole, try frozen peaches in a peach cobbler, top cheesecake with home preserved jams, the list is endless. 

Michigan Fresh is a Michigan State University Extension initiative that provides information on safely storing and preserving a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. MSU Extension also offers a range of food safety and food preservation classes, in person and online. Contact your local MSU Extension county office to learn more about available classes.

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