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Canned Food Expiration Date MYTH

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If you are like me your food storage is quite diverse, with canned foods integrated into the rotation cycle.  Unfortunately there might not be a way to get through all of your canned food stock prior to hitting a few of those expiration dates, so what then?  Do you assume the food magically turned poisonous and then discard it?  I hope that is not your primary course of action because in reality canned foods (depending on a few factors) have been known to remain edible long after the manufacturer’s suggested expiration date.  So the question remains just how long after the expiration date are canned foods good for?  1 year, 5 years, 10 years?  While the method by which you store the food surely has an impact on shelf life (i.e. cool basement versus hot storage shed) there have been cases where canned food survived almost 100 years with no microbial growth whatsoever.

The steamboat Bertrand was heavily laden with provisions when it set out on the Missouri River in 1865, destined for the gold mining camps in Fort Benton, Mont. The boat snagged and swamped under the weight, sinking to the bottom of the river. It was found a century later, under 30 feet of silt a little north of Omaha, Neb.

Among the canned food items retrieved from the Bertrand in 1968 were brandied peaches, oysters, plum tomatoes, honey, and mixed vegetables. In 1974, chemists at the National Food Processors Association (NFPA) analyzed the products for bacterial contamination and nutrient value. Although the food had lost its fresh smell and appearance, the NFPA chemists detected no microbial growth and determined that the foods were as safe to eat as they had been when canned more than 100 years earlier.

In a more recent article entitled Exposing Myths About Expiration Dates on Foods, a reference is made to just how trained people are to discard many items once they are past the expiration date.

“An enormous amount of food gets discarded because of these dates and its really a shame because its perfectly fine, edible, wholesome food but people see the date and react to that,” said Buckley…

Buckley says the dates on canned and packaged foods, bottled water and even beer are more an indication of quality not a food safety or health issue. Even the “sell by” date on milk is only a suggestion.

The bottom line:  Don’t be so quick to toss out or donate those canned food items sitting on your basement shelves just because they hit their printed expiration date.  When all else fails, crack those suckers open and use your senses to determine if they are still edible (they probably will be).  When in doubt some high heat from your rocket stove and an iron skillet can serve as another method by which to “cleanse” the food prior to eating it.

Check out this video for another perspective on which canned foods last the longest.

This article appears courtesy of, one of the premier prepper/survival blogs online today. Whether you are a new or experienced prepper feel free to visit and check out all of the other valuable information posted there.


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    Total 11 comments
    • Str8Talker

      Suspected this many years ago and decided to try a test… 2 weeks ago, I ate a small can of name brand noodles & tomato sauce in one of those kids “canned” lunch sizes… anyhow it was over 4 years past its expiration date… guess what? Tasted just fine… and I felt no side effects either. It’s been in a cool environment all these years without any dents or cuts in the container to cause the food to spoil.

      Currently have more in the 7 year expiration period gonna try next at 8 years… will see. It goes against our sensibilities because we’ve been so “programmed” to pitch, waste and “BUY, Buy, buy…” Folks, like it or not, times and supplies may be hard to get… you better start learning to adjust your “taste buds” to survive… but do it smartly.


        Great points Str8Talker, thanks for adding your experiences. You are correct in that most people have been programmed to throw things away. It’s sad really.

    • morris adams

      i thought i was alone on this one. I’ve always thought this. my conspiracy minded concern is that
      ”they” put something in the cans so they won’t last multi-years so we can’t prep! but seriously, if we have cans good til 014 or 015, i think we’ll need it by then! i don’t think we’ll see a 2016 election, no way!

    • PaulTarsuss

      Not to change the subject, but speaking of “canned”. The powers that be, ‘canned’ the outspoken and unashamed Christian, Tim Tebow from the jets:


      If you support Tim, please read the above story and drop him a line on his facebook page?

      Blessings All, in Christ


      P.R. CAN YOU TELL ME – WHAT ABOUT CANNED CHEF BOYARDEE RAVIOLI (REGULAR SMALL CANS) – I have two cans that were given to me…both say of January 2012…cans are like new…no dents, absolutely perfect looking…are they good to go?…down my throat, that is…L.


        I would say those should be good to go. Open them up and see if they pass the sniff test and if they do try a bit to see how it tastes. If they have been stored in a cool climate and not compromised I’d say you probably won’t have any issues….

    • Drew

      My wife does not drink milk and I once forgot a 2 lt milk in the fridge for two months. I normally make up powdered milk when I want some. I brought a new 2 lt milk home the one evening and was reminded to use the one we had in the fridge first. Both bottles of milk tasted the same. As it was in the fridge the whole time, it was safe to drink.

      Not being opened to the air, and kept cold milk can last for months.

      That’s why the info on food products advise “use within x days from opening”

    • inSANEmom

      I try to use items before or soon after the date and rotate in fresh stuff. About 2 weeks ago, I found a container of Ragu spaghetti sauce… large plastic pottle with wide-mouth plastic screw top lid. It was 14 months past the expiration date and had gotten “lost” in my food storage. I opened it up, gave it a test taste… and then proceeded to feed it to the family. It was yummy and we all survived! That said… I once opened a can of raviolis that was 8 months past the date and it was rancid.

      As a side note… my local homeless shelter will not take anything past it’s expiration date. :sad:

    • JKalley

      I eat canned goods well past the expiration date as does my husband. I ate a can of soup the other day 2 years after the expiration date. I only throw away cans that are rusted, unusually dented, or otherwise make me question the quality of the items. I always forget to rotate stock. My biggest issue is with ketchups and pasta sauces that actually turn brown and do look, smell bad not that long after expiration dates. I have to watch those more closely!

    • Gettmaster

      I think most canned foods are ok to eat long after their expiration date with the exception of canned goods containing tomato sauce. Tomato sauce is very acidic and actually eats the inside lining of the can slowly but surely over time. There have been many warnings about eating canned foods containing tomato sauce or paste period, expired or not, due to the fact that you are consuming the eroding metal. My theory is that the acidic nature of the tomato sauce starts to eat away at the metal cans compromising the seal of the cans. This might be why inSANEmom had a can of ravioli go rancid just 8 months after expiration. Plastic and glass containers are not effected by the acidic tomatoes and should last longer than cans. Just for general info I should mention that tomatoes are not acidic until they have been cooked above 140 degrees and/or pasteurized. I wouldn’t stock my canned good supply with very many selections of tomato based goods unless you can get it in glass or plastic, even then it’s risky if the lids contain metal. I can live without tomato sauce, maybe I’ll just try and find a dehydrated substitute.

      • chris ellis

        Gettmaster, What about home canned tomatoes, would they last longer because they are in glass? I know you can see in the tomatoes and tell or if the seal doesn’t seal correctly, but because it is in glass instead of the metal with that lining, do you think it would last longer?

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