How long can canned food last?

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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.


CAN you organize your pantry? You will!
You probably have quite a few cans in your pantry right now, right? Soup, tuna, canned veggies, canned pet food, broth, beans, etc. It all takes up space! Here are a ton of can organizers to help keep your pantry organized so you can easily find everything. These are great for the RV too, since it’ll stop everything from moving around. Look through these organizers here.


*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.

##RVT794 ##RVDT1325

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Vanessa
2 months ago

How many of you keep shelf life milk in your RV? It makes the best lattes and cappuccinos. It is what they use in Italy. I love the chocolate. Keep at least two cartons in the RV for emergencies. Drank a lot in the service.
I don’t use a lot of milk and keep “real” milk until it sours no matter what the date is. Wilted greens, wrinkly peppers, bruised fruit, etc. All still eatable. If your town has “ugly vegetables” see about having some delivered or where you can buy them.

mark b
2 months ago

People, if you have a compulsive date checker, please donate those cans. Most food shelves have a list, by product type of how many years BEYOND stamped date, they will distribute. Typically, 2-3 years. The foods are safe after that, but from experience they may not taste as fresh as the day they were canned.

Jim Schrankel
2 months ago

The first batch of Spam rolled off the production line in 1938. Due to heavy demand during the Coronavirus, a second batch will be coming soon….

Admin
RV Staff (@rvstaff)
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim Schrankel

😆 —Diane at RVtravel.com

Ed D..
2 months ago

What about food stored in glass jars?

mark b
2 months ago
Reply to  Ed D..

Typically same as canned. They are vacuum sealed and mostly product will remain unchanged. However, I have seen coloring changes in things like applesauce.

Ed D..
2 months ago
Reply to  mark b

Perhaps, due to light. Like beer in non- amber bottles getting skunkier than beer in amber bottles and in cans.

Drew
2 months ago

My wife throws away canned stuff that’s beyond the “expiration” date. Perfectly good food thrown in the garbage. Personally, I prefer the swollen cans- more product for the same price!

mark b
2 months ago
Reply to  Drew

Donate to food shelf. Most food shelves have lists of how long beyond expiration date they will distribute, by product. 2-3 years for most products. As you recognize, her compulsion has no basis in fact.

During college, my sister-in-law worked for a company that distributed mustard and Chef Boyardee products. She pulled those nearing marked “expiration” date. I lived off those products. Will never eat a can of Chef Boyardee again. Too much of a good thing.

Captn John
2 months ago

In ’65 I enlisted in the military, born in ’48. In ’66 in the bush/jungle of SE Asia often ate C-rats that were older than me, 44 – 45. Some were very good and others not so much, not because of age.

Peter Donahue
2 months ago
Reply to  Captn John

Served ’64 to ’67. had c-rats that were from the late forty’s in boot camp and also later on when doing field training once a year!!!

Dan
2 months ago

It’s so simple. Military surplus MRE’s and twinkies. Both have infinity for expiration dates. And the MRE’s cook themselves, just add water.

Irv
2 months ago
Reply to  Dan

“The average MRE shelf life lasts five years in 75 degrees F. If kept in cooler conditions, they can last well over 10 years and still be safe to eat. However, you should note that an MRE will only last about a month if stored in 120 degrees F.”

From: https://www.armynavyoutdoors.com/blog/how-long-do-mres-last-meals-ready-to-eat-expiration/

Andy & Maureen T
2 months ago

Can goods do have an expiration date stamped on the can.

Frank
2 months ago

That is not an expiration date its a best used by date and is for the grocery stores to keep their inventory moving and not have that one can in the back for years. Like all the other comments they can last for years as long as they aren’t any damage or seals broken on the can’s. How can we get those cans she is throwing away. The food line would like to have them and sure could use them now. Please don’t throw them away.

Vanessa
2 months ago

A way to get you to throw away perfectly good food and buy more! Keeps the grocery supply chain in business.

Larry H Lee
2 months ago

Why is this the best kept secret in the world? My wife checks the expiration date on the can and pitches everything which has gone beyond the date! No problem, except I HATE WASTE.

Sharon Boehmer
2 months ago
Reply to  Larry H Lee

I, too, check expiration dates every couple of months. If I find something that is going to expire in a month or 2, I plan a meal to use that item up. I don’t like waste, either.

Tom Herd
2 months ago
Reply to  Larry H Lee

Expiration dates are often arbitrary. For example, as I understand it, NJ has a requirement that every food sold MUST have a date shown on the container. This includes water. When is the last time that you heard of water “expiring”?

Often, these are “Best By” dates, and the food will be fine for some time after that date comes and goes. These are the dates that the manufacturer guarantees freshness, not the date that the food “expires”.

Properly stored food will usually have a shelf life far beyond these dates. Use common sense and do some research on the subject and you’ll probably have much less waste.

Bob Godfrey
3 years ago

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

Captn John
2 months ago
Reply to  Bob Godfrey

Posted about that before seeing you did as well. Spam and Beans and muthers were my favorites. A few more cigarettes and more TP in the box would have been nice too.
Welcome home

JRW
Univ of SE Asia 1966 and 67-68

Bob Godfrey
2 months ago
Reply to  Captn John

Ah yes! Welcome home…….! Love the “Univ of SE Asia” thing. And for the coronavirus era, having learned to be judicious in my use of TP in the jungle due to the very small quantities allotted those experiences paid off (in a very strange world!)