Letter Re: Food Storage Expiration

I have always wondered about food storage manufacturers’ claims about the shelf life of their products. Many claim 30 years shelf life for what they sell. Of course, the question is how can the consumer ever know that this is true?

Many purchasers are dead and buried by the time 30 years pass. Who could ever go back and demand that their money be returned if it did turnout that the product had gone bad?

I know one fellow who obtained No. 10 cans of wheat from a small survival food manufacturer. When he opened a can several years later, to his horror, he found the contents to be moldy. He began opening other cans and found that all of the others were similar. That would obviously be a very bad thing, even something fatal to discover during a long-term emergency.

I believe that many survivalist/preppers, like me, are reluctant to open relatively expensive cans of stored products to test them. Having paid the money for the product, they are reluctant to “waste” it by using it during normal times.

An Odd Can

A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out the garage. I came across a No. 10 can of food that was so old that the glue had failed and the label had fallen off. As a result, I had no idea of what was in it. I know for a fact that I purchased this can of food prior to 1985, probably around 1983 or 1984. It has been stored in my garage summer after summer, with all of the usual heat that goes with summer. (I do not do this with the food I’ve purchased in the past eight years or so. That is when my interest in prepping was re-kindled. I fully understand that excessive heat is a known factor in speeding up the deterioration of canned food.)

While it can certainly get hot here in August and September, I am only about 25 miles from the ocean, so it is a much cooler part of Southern California than many places further inland. I tell you this only because it serves as some indication of what the contents of the can were subjected to since I bought it.

I shook the can and heard a rattle inside. This was no help in figuring out the sort of food it was, so, without giving it any thought, I tossed it in the garbage can. I then thought better of the idea. I decided to open it. Once I did, I found that it was a freeze-dried fruit cocktail mix. I saw sliced and diced strawberries, pineapples, peaches, and other fruits.

A Chance to Test

Curious, since I have read other articles and reports about opening cans of food decades after the product was manufactured, I decided to add water and to see how it tasted. I suppose that it brought out the guinea pig in me, just as had been the case when I tested a can of soup that was about 10 years-old last year. (No negative results, by the way.)

Here was my chance to test food storage information and opinion that I had read on the Internet. I ate a small amount and it tasted fine. I then waited to see if there was any negative reaction from consuming it. There wasn’t. I have continued to eat the rest of it and nothing negative has resulted.

I will leave it to others who are much better qualified to express an opinion about any loss of nutrients involved. From my perspective, however, in an emergency, I would be happy to have the caloric input from cans of food like this. I would worry about the possible nutrition deficiency later, or I would simply take a multi-vitamin that I had wisely stored, and move on with a full stomach.

I won’t attempt to extrapolate from the results of this one can to other products such as vegetables or entreés. All I know is that this 30+ year-old freeze-dried fruit that had been stored under less than ideal circumstances turned out to be fine. – EM

See also:

Debunking the Myth of Canned Food Expiration Dates, by T.L.


  1. it is important to learn how to cook with dry and freeze dryed foods when your survival is not dependent on cooking success. I have had some spectaluar failures. But as we experiment, we learn.

    One thing we learned is that a 14 year old girl and her friend can eat a #10 can of freeze dried strawberries in one sleepover. Dry!

  2. I have found that the expiration date on canned goods is so irrelevant, that i rarely bother putting on my glasses to read the teeny tiny dates hidden somewhere on the packaging. I simply mark the tops of the cans with the month and year i put them on the shelf. The batch I just put there get a magic marker date of 07-17, and i make sure i eat all of the oldest dates first. Some sweet peas are marked 08-11 and i ate a can last night. That was kind of old, but after i opened them and gave them the sniff test, they smeled ok, so i gave it a try. Had they smelled bad, or had I gotten sick, i would have opened all of the other cans and probably put them on the compost pile.

    Home canned foods get eaten quicker than store bought cans, only because my family thinks they are somewhat more perishable than store bought for some goofy reason.

  3. That raises a few questions, which multi vitamins? So far, the best one I’ve found is Multi Molecular.
    A second multi vitamin with K2 would be good to have.

    I wonder how far past their ‘best by’ date do vitamins last, the same as with food, I’m guessing: ymmv.

    I am not very good at being able to see and detect the swolleness of a bad canned good, sometimes it’s very subtle. Does putting canned goods in containers such as cardboard boxes or plastic totes or using shrink wrap increase the shelf life vs. just placing the can on a shelf? I’m guessing it depends upon the environmental conditions where you live?

  4. I have opened and eaten Mountain House Beef and Rice that was over 35 years old with no bad effects. I also wondered about eating food that old, but it was fine to eat and left me full, but like the OP said, the loss of nutrients would be a major factor.

  5. I not so sure I buy into the loss of nutrients from long term storage. They are still there in that can and just maybe your body can put them back together and use them as building blocks.

  6. Over the past two years, I have opened and consumed a number of No. 10 cans of chick peas, kidney beans and fruit cocktail, purchased around 2001-03 and stored in an alcove off the landing on my basement stairs. A few of the kidney bean cans had to be discarded when the contents appeared black on top. Several cans of tomatoes also had to be discarded.

    I discarded a 10 lb. bag of flour of the same vintage when the first loaf baked from it didn’t taste right. That had been stored in a plastic bag contained within a sealed plastic garbage can and stored in the basement. I am presently consuming a bag of oatmeal purchased in 2001 and stored in the same garbage can. It tastes fine.

    1. Hi Robert,
      I’m not at all surprised about the tomatoes and the bag of flour. What has me curious is the cans of kidney beans. I really wonder why those turned black on top? Would you be willing to share the brand name with us? I would like to write the manufacturer and get their opinion on what happened.
      Maybe it was something like they were nitrogen flushed and it had a long term affect on the beans in the top of the can.?!?

  7. I am going through 100+ buckets of Walton Feed Y2K storage food buckets right now and have been for about a month or two. These buckets were stored outside in a shed in the Texas heat for their entire lives, but I got them almost free so why not. I guestimate that these were bought around ’98-’99 since they were for Y2K. I have found that most of the grains and legumes are still good. Beans are pinto, black, garbanzo, navy, pink, northern. They’re all good so far, even a couple buckets that had cracked. When packaged they were purged with nitrogen, then sealed. I assume due to the heat that a lot of nutrition is lost but like the author said, it’s still calories. The beans tasted good, the powdered milk was good, peanut butter powder was good, vegetable stew was good though it’s purpose is to mix into a stew and not eat by itself. It’s like the dehydrated mix that comes with some brands of ramen noodles, but 5 gallons of it. The wheat still sprouted too. The powdered whole eggs cooked up into some conglomerate of what looked like cooked oily peanut butter but with the consistency of tofu, trash. I have more powdered eggs to go through as I have only opened one. All of the brown rice I have opened is bad, went sour, and some is moldy, and some even had some types of worms in them. What is good i am packing with 2000cc oxygen absorbers and into new buckets (most buckets are getting brittle and are dirty and whatnot, generally untrustworthy) I have about 50 or so more to go through, I’ll add this page specifically to my favorites and follow and update. God Bless!

  8. so far the only items I have that have gone bad are tuna fish in the Foil pouches that are more than a year old, (bad tummy gurgle) altho the canned variety is fine, any canned fruit because it starts to ferment due to the sugars and blows the can open at the seam and leaks all over the other cans and turns black and attracts ants and mice, anything with tomato in it (Ketchup only lasts a year before turning brown), same for spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce. Canned Chili and baked beans seem to taste OK no matter how old, same for canned soup and canned vegetables. I find that adding just a pinch of baking powder to older baking products like biscuit and cornbread mix will allow them to rise properly when baked even if they are a few years old.

  9. We have accumulated some long term storage food supplies over the years, and so far the only thing we have noticed are some baking mixes that have gone bad. Specifically buttermilk biscuit, and cornbread mixes. They were also two different brands. We kept them stored in a temperature controlled environment, set at 72 degrees in spring, summer, and fall, and no lower than 50 degrees in winter. The cans bulged, so we threw them out. Some were just over four years old, but a few were not yet a year old. On checking we discovered the newer cans were ordered in the summertime, so I am going to assume the heat in the warehouse, shipping facilities, and trucks is what did them in. Apparently baking mixes are pretty sensitive, and going forward we will be ordering these type of items in the winter months.
    Also, we love banana chips, especially honey coated banana chips, and always buy extra cans when we find them on sale. We decided to compare a new can to an old can that was almost 5 years old. The older bananas looked darker, and had lost their sheen. They were still edible, but they did taste somewhat stale. The new cans, of course, were factory fresh and tasted fantastic.

    1. One of the Y2k buckets I opened were banana chips. The seal was good and they looked like they do when they’re brand new (I saw a bag the next day at the dollar store). But when I tried them it was weird, it had no taste, then it turned disgusting and I spit it out. I dug deeper and tried another and it was the same, never even a hint of banana flavor at all. So we crushed them up and fed them to the chickens. Granted this was an almost 20 year old bucket. Just my .02.

  10. I have lots of dehydrated and freeze dry #10 cans. I will not use them unless I need them since I am now alone and can’t use it up fast enough when opened.

    I figure I did my best and if the food is ok then fine if not oh well. That being said they are all in a basement that never gets over 72 degrees in the summer and is at 60 degrees most of the year.

    I use little grocery store can goods just tuna, can chicken, spaghetti sauce but I go though this stuff. I have had some old 2 yr past due soup and it did not taste very good so I tossed it. Things like this I think loses taste but it may not make you sick. Just have to test it in small dose to see if you get sick.

    Hope I never have to use any of it.

  11. I have completely revamped my food storage over the past 10 years.
    I keep about 2 years on hand; eating good…it comes down to a year.
    If there ever is a total grid down SHTF I only have to make it 6 months. Maybe less if during the winter.
    90% or more will perish.
    It will be rough, no doubt. Then we rebuild.

    1. I think Dave pretty much hit the nail on the head. I have come to a similar conclusion on the survivability of so many fellow citizens. I believe the first thirty days will be the worst.

    2. Dave and replies are exactly right in my opinion. A month supply is the maximum we will have on hand, think about it. You always have 3 months one hand, that does not mean at the end of 3 months you stock up again, at any one time you always have 3 months. Why 3 months? One week meal planning for most is easily handled, beyond that week 2, 3 & 4 fresh produce will be an issue. One month is a severe challenge, Three months is equivalent to a mission to mars with virtually all families with a dad and mom and two kids. Two boys substantially changes the equation.

  12. I may get scolded here for this but I have several sacks of various kinds of rice and several bags of dried beens sitting in a closet in the house. Kept at 74 degrees. I have intended to seal them in Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers but have’t yet. Do you think it’s still okay to seal them up at this point for long term storage?

    1. You don’t say really how long you’ve had your beans and rice stored this way but,
      from the information I have gathered on the internet, and a little experience…
      Both dried beans and most types of rice, as long as they are kept in the dark below 75 degrees, have an indefinite shelf life, with brown rice being the exception.
      Beans after a couple of years will probably have to be soaked and/or cooked longer than normal.
      The good news is beans do not lose any of their nutritional value with age.
      Get those suckers sealed up.
      White rice, Wild rice, and Basmati rice, the most common types around here, should be good to go for quite a while also.
      Brown rice has a higher oil content and won’t last nearly as long, 3 to 6 months tops on the pantry shelf. Brown rice can be stored in the fridge to double it’s shelf life, or in the freezer to triple it’s shelf life. Brown rice will develop an off odor and look oily when it’s gone bad.
      Hope that helps.

    2. You can test the beans by how long it takes them to cook,if they are still hard after simmering(check your favorite cookbook) use them up by pressure cooker

  13. Tomato products in cans, pineapple and high acid foods will not store for long periods. As already mentioned fruit will deteriorate sooner than other canned goods. First is gets soft, sort of mushy then it will ferment. When it is just soft it can be used to make fruit rolls .

  14. A couple of years ago my mother-in-law died, and as we were preparing for the funeral I took charge of evaluating her food storage. A few old cans were swollen so I opened them. One was full of dried (but not FD,) peaches or apricots, and they’d turned black. Another was Mountain House (I believe,) Turkey Tetrazzini, and I couldn’t tell the date of manufacture. Upon opening it, the food looked decent and had no odd smell, but I was in a hurry so I tossed it in the trash. My mistake for not trying to rehydrate some for further evaluation. I checked and found that some of the FD foods were deliberately packed in nitrogen, under pressure. I kept an identical can of tetrazzini for our own supply. Lesson learned; If you have some swollen cans, test them before you toss them.

  15. Small white navy beans of Y2K vintage, actual age unknown were eatable only after cooked in a pressure cooker for about an hour. However there were a few of the bean’s skin or shell that detached, and there is the possibility that these could plug up a pressure cooker. Keep the water level a couple of inches from the top and there should be no problem.

    1. That is exactly the reason i use the old style “rattle and hiss” pressure cookers, so that i can immediately turn down the heat if the sounds stop. I think the pressure cooker is the greatest invention since the reusable canning lid, and being a southern Louisiana boy at heart, my stockpile of beans and rice will make a schumer and fan situation un-noticeable, till the red beans run out that is.

    1. Use magic marker then clear varnish,that is how it’s done on ships going to sea(labels removed to keep from clogging pumps when they get damp and fall off)

  16. A belated reply to FallingUpInOKC, July 8:

    I hesitate to publicly name the brand of kidney beans, as only a few of the cans contained blackened contents, and now that all the cans have been used, I am not entirely certain of the brand. Moreover, I would hardly criticize a canned product which held up for 15 or so years. We made chilli from the beans, and it tasted fine.

    I should add that I am also using up 15 year-old sardines. I have yet to open a bad can.

    1. That’s OK. I know what ya mean. I realize you weren’t criticizing the product. I was just wondering why an item that’s supposed to have an indefinite shelf life to start with, would turn black on top like that after it’s sealed up in an airtight can. Especially when it’s stored properly. Sometimes, stuff just happens. 🙂

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