In 1795, Napoleon needed a better way to preserve large quantities of food for his troops during the Napoleonic Wars, so his government offered a reward of 12,000 francs for the invention of a new food preservation method. In 1809, Nicolas Appert won that award with his canning technique that used glass containers that were sealed then heated to a set temperature. Peter Durand created the tin canister a year later. These inventions led to the canning materials and processes that are used today to preserve food for people all over the world.
Canned food provides a convenient and often less expensive way to include fruits and vegetables in the diet of many individuals and families. Canned foods are also considered a staple in many pantries because of their shelf life. Commercially canned products may keep the food packed inside at its best quality for 1 to 5 years depending on the type of food. Most home canned foods are able to be stored for up to a year, though there are some exceptions.
To make the most of canned foods, keep these tips in mind.
Best by or use by dates on commercial products do not indicate safety. They are estimated dates provided by the manufacturer on how long they believe their product would be at its best quality. The exception to this is for infant formula products that are required to have a “Use-By” date and should not be used after that date.
Avoid cans or jars that are not in good condition. Look for dents, swelling or bulging, leaking, rust, cracks in jars or loose lids. If the food has a foul odor or spurts liquid when it’s opened, do not use it. Any of these could indicate the food may have been contaminated or could contain Clostridium botulinum toxins.
Store canned foods in a cool, dark and dry space. This will help them to last longer and keep the food inside at its best quality. Keep canned foods in an area that is between 50-70°F.
Use canned foods to fill nutrition gaps. Add a can of vegetables to your dinner menu—a side of green beans or carrots can help balance your plate. Try using a can of fruit as a basis for a dessert. Pineapple and cottage cheese, anyone? If you’re concerned about sodium or sugar in canned foods, look for products marked as low sodium or lite for less sugar. Compare ingredient and nutrition labels of different brands or varieties of a product to find what works best for you.
If you can foods at home, make sure you’re following recipes that have been tested for safety. Follow the guidelines in the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, 2015 Revision or find more information at the National Center for Home Food Preservation. You can also contact your local extension office; in Florida, you can find your local office here.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library, How Did We Can?: https://www.nal.usda.gov/exhibits/ipd/canning/timeline-table
U.S. Department of Agriculture, AskUSDA, How long can you keep canned goods?: https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/How-long-can-you-keep-canned-goods
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Food Product Dating: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/food-product-dating/food-product-dating