Food and Recipes Kitchen Assistant How Long Does Canned Food Really Last? Those expired cans are good far longer than you think… By Tamara Gane Tamara Gane Tamara Gane is a travel, food, and lifestyle writer whose work has appeared in more than 30 prominent publications, including Travel and Leisure, TripSavvy, The Washington Post, The Independent, NPR, Taste of Home, Wine Enthusiast, and more. Southern Living’s editorial guidelines Updated on September 22, 2022 Fact checked by Jillian Dara Fact checked by Jillian Dara Jillian is a freelance writer, editor and fact-checker with 10 years of editorial experience in the lifestyle genre. In addition to fact-checking for Southern Living, Jillian works on multiple verticals across Dotdash-Meredith, including TripSavvy, The Spruce, and Travel + Leisure. brand’s fact checking process Share Tweet Pin Email In This Article View All In This Article What do expiration dates really mean? Can you still donate expired food? How long do home-canned goods last? How long does canned food really last? Most of us don’t organize our pantry as often as we should, but when we do, we nearly always have something in common–the discovery of expired food. Whether it’s a can of soup or a forgotten can of cranberry sauce, you might be tempted to throw them away. Not so fast! According to the USDA, shelf-stable foods are safe to eat indefinitely and you can eat them well past their expiration date. So what do those dates even mean if they don’t indicate the food has gone bad? To cut through the confusion, we consulted with the experts to find out how long canned food really lasts. What do expiration dates really mean? According to Kimberly Baker, PhD., RD, LD Director, Food Systems and Safety Program Team (Cooperative Extension) at Clemson University, the expiration dates and best-by dates we see on cans of food don’t indicate when the food will spoil or go bad. Manufactured canned goods are still safe to eat after that time. There is a catch, however. Baker says, “the further you get from the expiration date the more quality of the product may be lost.” So, although you can still eat that can of soup, the color, taste, and texture might be affected. There are exceptions, though. Baker is quick to point out that if the can is dented, especially along the seam, or shows any sign of bulging or rust, it could be a sign of spoiling or botulism. This is potentially dangerous so such cans should be discarded to be safe. The best way to find out if an undamaged can is still palatable is simply to open it up to taste, smell, and examine the contents. Getty Images Can you still donate expired food? Atlanta Community Food Bank, for example, says they do accept donations of expired food. However, since expired foods can diminish in quality, it’s always a good idea to check with your local food bank or food pantry beforehand, especially if your canned goods have been expired for a significant amount of time. How long do home-canned goods last? Foods canned at home do not have an expiration date so it’s always a good idea to mark the container with the date the foods were canned. Baker says, “we suggest consumers eat these foods within 12-18 months for best quality. If these foods have been canned following a science-based method, they will be safe after this time frame, but may notice quality factoring beginning to be lost.” How long does canned food really last? We’ve already established that in most cases, canned goods are safe to eat indefinitely, however, no one wants to eat a can of tuna that’s turned mushy since it’s past its prime. Consider the below recommendations: Canned Fruits High acid canned goods such as canned fruits, including tomatoes, should be eaten within 1-2 years past their expiration date. Canned Vegetables, Meats, and Soups Low acid canned goods like vegetables, canned meats, and soups should be eaten within 2-3 years past their expiration date. Shelf-stable Milk Evaporated milk, condensed milk, and other shelf-stable milk should be used within a year of their expiration date. This applies to powdered milk as well. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Tell us why! Other Submit Sources Southern Living is committed to using high-quality, reputable sources to support the facts in our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we fact check our content for accuracy. USDA. Before you toss food, wait. Check it out!