How long can canned food last?



By Bob Difley

Do your food storage lockers hold hidden contents that were placed there shortly after your rig rolled off the showroom floor? And one day you’re boondocking mucho miles away from the nearest Safeway and have this enormous craving for artichoke hearts? So you dig through your food stores and voila! You discover a can of these delectable treats. The can is a bit rusted and the label peeling off, but hey. They’re still edible, right?

It does raise the question: Just how long can we keep canned foods before they either go completely off the chart or turn into something not so delectable?

The good news is that most food authorities say canned food will last for two years and longer. Even the two-year figure, though, is completely arbitrary. In reality, if the can’s seal is not broken it can last for many years longer.

How much longer? There was a report of a canned meat opened after 118 years and it was fine (canned meats can last the longest). The age of the can is not the big decider – after all, how long are you going to keep cans in your RV? Five years, ten years? Doubtful. The cans will likely outlast your RV.

But to be safe, if you follow these storage hints on food you intend to store for emergencies, or when you’re trying to stretch a couple more days into your boondocking trips, you can eliminate your food safety concerns.

*Write the date of purchase on the top of the can with a permanent marker.

*Store in cool dry compartment. We RVers have to deal with bigger temperature swings than at home, but the cooler you can keep the cans the less chance they will have of overheating.

*Low-acid foods (soups without tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, pumpkin, peas) will last longer than highly acidic food (tomatoes, fruit, and foods with a lot of vinegar in them).

*Before using, inspect the can for dents (a can with a large dent can have a broken seal even if you can’t see it), bulging (a bad sign – throw these out immediately), and leaking (also throw out).

*Never eat canned food that has a strange odor, color or flavor, or that spurts when it is opened. Chuck it.

The Food Reference website states: “Canned food retains its safety and nutritional value well beyond two years, but it may have some variation in quality, such as a change of color and texture. Canning is a high-heat process that renders the food commercially sterile. Food safety is not an issue in products kept on the shelf or in the pantry for long periods of time. In fact, canned food has an almost indefinite shelf life at moderate temperatures (75° F and below). Canned food as old as 100 years has been found in sunken ships and it is still microbiologically safe!”

In canned foods, preservatives are used to maintain quality. The canning process keeps it safe. If a product is correctly processed, it should remain safe until opened or the seal is broken. The U.S. Army has found that canned meats, vegetables and jam were in “excellent states of preservation” after 46 years.

You can find Bob Difley’s RVing e-books on Amazon Kindle.


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Bob Godfrey

While in Vietnam in 1968 we were regularly given “C” rations leftover from WWII and I’m still around.