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How Long Can You Keep Can Goods?

This article was originally published on April 2, 2008 and expired on May 1, 2008. It is provided here for archival purposes and may contain dated information.

How Long Can You Keep Can Goods?

Byline: Carol C. Schlitt, Extension educator, nutrition and wellness

A consumer called my office last week that was cleaning out her mother's pantry and wanted to know if some of the can goods were still good. She also wanted to know how to decipher the codes that are stamped on the tops of many cans and jars.

As a general rule of thumb, non-acid foods in cans – corn, green beans, mixed vegetables, mushrooms, etc. – will stay high quality for two to five years. High-acid canned food – fruits, tomatoes and pickled products – will stay high quality for 18 to 24 months. Beyond these dates canned foods begin to loose some quality.

Many canned goods now have a readable date code stamped on the top of the can. This is a "Best If Used By" date. However some companies use a non-consumer friendly series of numbers and letters that can only be read by them. To get help breaking this code, call the company's toll-free consumer hotline number or write to the address found on the can.

With one company I contacted, they told me the first line of their code refers to specifics about the product. The second line, for example 71863, deals with packing. The first number – 7– indicates that the product was packed in 2007. The next three numbers – 186 – means it was packed on the 186th day of the year. The last 3 indicates that the product was packed on the 3rd shift.

To maintain the highest quality, all canned foods should be stored in a dark, dry and cool place. Glass jars will keep food longer – at least 6 months longer than cans -- if stored properly because glass is inert and food does not react to it.


Source and Editor: Carol Schlitt, Extension educator, nutrition and wellness, 618-692-9434

Source: Carol C. Schlitt, Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness, cschlitt@illinois.edu

Pull date: May 1, 2008

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