How long do canned foods really last? The answer may surprise you

Can you still use that old tin of tomatoes that's two years old? An expert weighs in.

We got to the bottom of how long tinned food can last. Credit: Getty Images
We got to the bottom of how long tinned food can last. Credit: Getty Images

For many, a fully stocked pantry is the answer to always being prepared in the kitchen, but how long do canned goods really last? While some believe canned goods can last indefinitely, others abide by the use-by dates.

So, is it safe to consume something that’s been sitting in the back of your cupboard for months? Edward McCartney from Food Safety Plus says that canned goods can last and, surprisingly, be used beyond the use-by date.

“This date indicates the period during which the manufacturer guarantees the product's safety. After this date, the food might not be at its best in terms of flavour, texture, and nutritional value, but it can still be safe to consume,” he told Yahoo Lifestyle.


You might notice a few differences if you decide to use tinned food after the use-by date. The taste, texture, and colour can degrade over time. For instance, some canned fruits become mushy, and vegetables might lose their colour. It all depends on how well the can has been stored and has remained sealed.

“Canned food can be safe to eat past the "use by" or "best by" date if the can is in good condition - no rust, dents, or swelling - and has been stored properly. These dates are often more about quality than safety,” Mr McCartney said.

Credit: Calle Macarone/Unsplash
Credit: Calle Macarone/Unsplash

Canned foods are cleaned, prepared, and packed into metal containers with a canning fluid such as water, salted water, or fruit juice. Food Standards Australia and New Zealand state that containers are heat-treated to create a commercially sterile, shelf-stable product with an airtight seal.

This heat treatment eliminates organisms that could spoil the food or cause food-borne illnesses. The contents remain commercially sterile until the container is opened, breaking the vacuum seal.

So, is the back of the pantry the best place to store a collection of canned food? It actually is, considering that cans last the longest in a cool, dry environment. A place where the temperature stays between 10-21°C is ideal - so maybe rethink storing them in the garage.

It's a good idea to rotate the canned goods you have on hand before purchasing more. Credit: Getty Images
It's a good idea to rotate the canned goods you have on hand before purchasing more. Credit: Getty Images

However, just because they can last doesn't mean that you can forget about them. Keeping an eye on how you store cans and whether the cans change is important to stop microbial contamination. Keep cans away from moisture to prevent rust, and check regularly for any signs of damage such as rust, dents, or swelling. It’s also a good idea to rotate the stock you have on hand before purchasing more tinned goods.

While the quality can be compromised past the date of use, some canned goods can hold their quality a little longer than others.

Longer-lasting tinned foods include canned meats like canned chicken, beef, and sham, which can retain quality for several years and typically can be safe to consume for 3-5 years or more. Canned vegetables, canned soups, and stews also tend to last long periods, being safe to consume two to five years after the use-by date, thanks to the combination of ingredients and preservatives.

Meanwhile, canned fruits can only last between one to two years due to the higher sugar content and acidity.

This is a still life photograph of canned food on a kitchen pantry shelf in Chicago, USA.
Mr McCartney suggests using the "first in, first out" (FIFO) method to ensure older cans are used before newer ones. Photo: Getty

“This can lead to changes in flavour and texture more quickly, and while quality might decline after one to two years past the use-by date, they can remain safe for longer,” Mr McCartney said.

The one canned good that can be found in most people’s pantry is a tin of tomatoes. But unfortunately, they aren't ones that last long.


“Items like tomato sauce or paste are more acidic, which can cause the can to degrade faster, affecting the quality and safety of the contents over time,” Mr McCartney said.

“While canned foods have a long shelf life, their quality and nutritional value may decline. Proper storage can significantly extend their shelf life and maintain safety.”

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