From canned tomatoes to other canned vegetables like green beans and corn, these non-perishable foods make for a tasty meal. Plus, canned goods are affordable and can boast great nutrition, too. But if you’re looking into your pantry and find a few cans past their sell-by date, you could be wondering: How long does canned food last, and is it really safe to eat canned food past the expiration date printed on the can? Don’t stress, we’re here to provide you with the answers so you can feel comfortable diving into your pantry for that trusty can of beans.
Curious how long foods last in the fridge or freezer, too? We’ve got all the answers.
The truth about canned foods is pretty surprising — and will definitely take the pressure off of having to consume and replace all your backup food within a year or two. According to the USDA, most shelf-stable foods will last indefinitely if they are kept in good condition (meaning free of rust, major dents, or swelling).
Though, that’s no guarantee that the food’s texture and taste will be the same as when you first bought it years past the expiration date. There are several factors that diminish the shelf life of canned food, but generally, you can feel safe following this rule of thumb: Foods that are more acidic will expire sooner, while low-acid canned foods will last for a longer amount of time.
If you’re curious how long different canned food lasts unopened, here’s a specific breakdown of how long they’ll last on the shelf, and even how long they’ll keep in the refrigerator after they have been opened.
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What do expiration dates indicate?
Over the years, many canned foods will experience taste and texture changes. The “use-by” or “best-by” dates that are often printed on cans are for quality, not safety. Healthy canned foods may eventually also lose their nutritional value — which is why it’s recommended to consume different types of canned products by a certain time for the best quality.
Is it safe to eat canned foods past their “expiration” date?
While canned goods past their “best-by” date may not taste optimal, there’s no real health risk in consuming canned goods as long as they remain in good condition. Here’s why: The food in the container is commercially sterile and a vacuum seal prevents any new bacteria from getting in, so it will not spoil. Just make sure that you never buy bulging, rusted, leaking or dented cans, and that you always store canned goods in a cool, dry place — in fact, the USDA says to never store them in any place exposed to high or low temperatures, or in places such as under the sink, above or beside the stove, or in a damp garage or basement.
How long does canned food last after opening?
Well, after opening canned goods, make sure to store leftovers and unused portions in the refrigerator; for best preservation of quality and flavor, you should store it in a glass or plastic food storage container.
How long does canned food last?
Shelf-stable canned ham (such as Spam) lasts 2 to 5 years on the shelf. After opening, it will generally be good for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.
Low Acid Canned Goods
Low acid canned goods include items such as canned meat and poultry, stews, pasta products, and soups (except for tomato soup), as well as vegetables such as potatoes, corn, carrots, spinach, beans, beets, peas, and pumpkin. These canned goods will last for 2 to 5 years on the shelf after they’ve been canned and will last 3 to 4 days if you store them in the refrigerator after opening.
High Acid Canned Goods
High acidic canned goods include juices, tomatoes, and fruit products (such as grapefruit, pineapple, apples, peaches, pears, plums, and all berries), as well as pickles, sauerkraut, and all foods treated with vinegar-based sauces or dressings. These foods are good for 12 to 18 months on the shelf, but after opening, they will last 5 to 7 days in the refrigerator.
Home Canned Foods
If you’re canning your own foods at home, you should know that these foods will last up to a year on the shelf. Before using, though, remember to boil 10 minutes for high-acid foods and 20 minutes for low-acid foods as a precaution (even if you detect no signs of spoilage). After opening, your home canned foods will last around 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.
Becca Miller (she/her) has been working in the Good Housekeeping Test Kitchen since 2018, where she researches and writes about tasty recipes, food trends and top cooking tools. She graduated from NYU with a liberal arts degree focusing on creative writing. She makes killer scrambled eggs, enjoys a glass of un-oaked chardonnay and takes pride in her love of reality television.
Freelance Writer and Editor
Yolanda Wikiel is a freelance writer and editor based in New Jersey, where she lives with her husband, overly energetic toddler and supremely lazy calico. She has covered everything from home, food, and life skills to fashion, travel, and consumer goods for over a decade. Her work has appeared in Parents, Real Simple, Good Housekeeping, Oprah, and Woman’s Day.