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One of the biggest chores that preppers face is the accumulation of an emergency food supply. Prepping is not a new adventure. Many cultures have lived a prepping lifestyle. The Mayan culture is one such people who could survive and grow a large empire thanks to their innovative means of storing foods. The Mayans had a method of storing sweet potatoes where the food would last for upwards of ten years.
It was their insurance against drought and famine. Food security is certainly not new, but many of us in the modern world prepare for times when our plentiful bounties fade to slim pickings. In this blog, we address the question, “How long does canned food last?”
Canned Food and Its’ Definition
There are many types of canned food, and the meaning of “canned” becomes confusing.
Home Canned Foods – When you can your food its shelf life depends on the type of food that you can. According to the USDA, home canned foods have a shelf stability of about a year. The short recommendation of home canned food does not mean that you should bypass home canning as a means of stocking up for lean times. It means that you must be more conscious of how you plan and use food so that you use up canned food within a year.
Remember that to safely can a variety of foods at home you will need a pressure canner. There is no amount of increased time in a hot water bath canner that can make up for the lack of a pressure canner. Properly canned food means that you have eliminated the factors that contribute to botulism, a potentially fatal form of food poisoning.
Always check a canning jar for any defects before using for home canning. Not only can defects lead to food spoilage later on, but it can also interfere with the total canning process and result in a broken jar and wasted food. When you are canning meat, it really stinks to open up your pressure canner and discovered a broken jar and pounds of spoiled meat with glass shards contaminating it.
Consider a Food Rotation System
A good method for managing home canned food is to adopt a system that rotates food in such a way that you use the oldest foods first. We refer to this method as First In – First Out. It means that the first items that you put into your food closet are the first items that you use. Food rotation is an excellent tool for prepping, and it helps to keep the quality of food at its highest while minimizing the risk of food spoilage and food-borne illnesses such as botulism.
It is possible, and many people have lived to tell about the long shelf life of home-canned foods. Still, in an emergency food situation, it is best to be safe rather than risk illness due to food spoilage. Oddly, the USDA has different standards for commercially canned foods.
Special Note:If you are looking for some high quality non-GMO canned meats, I cannot speak highly enough of Keystone’s all natural canned meats.
Commercially Canned Foods
The USDA divides commercially canned food into two categories:
- Food that is highly acidic
- Food that is low acidic
Highly acidic foods include citrus juice, fruit such as apples, peaches, and pears, pickled foods, foods with vinegar, and tomato-based foods such as salsa, canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, etc. These foods have a recommended shelf life of just 12-18 months according to the USDA. Once opened the USDA recommends discarding highly acidic and commercially canned food after the seventh day of refrigeration.
Low Acidic Foods
Low acidic foods have a much longer shelf life. These are foods that are not tomato- or citrus-based and included commercially canned meats, poultry, soups, and many vegetables such as corn, peas, and squash. These types of foods can last for upwards of five years if stored properly. The USDA recommends a shelf life of 2-5 years.
Commercially canned vegetables and meats make an excellent addition to emergency food stores, especially if you use a food rotation system. Highly acidic foods can bolster your home canned food supply since they have a similar shelf life. Remember, though that home canned foods have a recommended shelf life of just a year, whereas commercially canned foods can last for a year to 18-months.
What we can infer from the USDA that low acidic and commercially canned foods have the capacity to be the central pillar of an emergency food store with a five-year shelf life, especially the proper management of the food stores.
Freeze Dried Prepper Foods
Freeze dried and commercially prepared foods designed for the longest shelf life can last from 10-30 years depending on the brand and food type. The benefit of freeze-dried food is that it maintains most of its flavor and texture when rehydrated properly. To prepare, most freeze-dried foods simply requires the addition of cold water, such as for freeze-dried milk, or hot water for meals that we enjoy warm.
Freeze dried foods are an outstanding way to add variety to an emergency food store. Thanks to the growing demands of the prepper community there are many food choices available from high-quality emergency food supplies such as:
In fact, companies supply quality emergency food for the prepper community (you can see the BDS top list of survival food brands here)
Dried and Jerked Food Shelf Life
Dried and jerked foods, such as meats, are generally shelf stable, according to the FDA. They do not have a long shelf life. Commercially prepared jerky has a recommended shelf life of about a year. Home prepared jerky has a 1-2-month shelf life according to the USDA.
The reason for the vast difference in shelf lives between the two is that the process of making jerky varies at home, whereas it is regulated and inspected on the commercial level.
This is not to say that home-made jerky spoils after only two months in a bag. It is, however, pointing out that there are many ways to make jerky at home and not all those methods create a product with a long shelf life. If you plan to make jerky at home as part of your emergency food stores, choose a process that dries the food completely. 
A good tip for storing dried foods with a shorter shelf life is to freeze the food after drying occurs. Freezing will increase the shelf life and decrease the risk of spoilage.
Dried foods have been around for millennia. The art of canning food dates to around 1750 as a means of preventing military food rations from spoiling. 
Some dried foods have an almost indefinite shelf life. Dried corn, according to FEMA when properly stored has an indefinite shelf life. Specially packaged foods such as powdered milk in nitrogen-packed cans also last indefinitely. 
Emergency Food Storage
Emergency food stores need to be stored properly for them to have the longest shelf life possible. Heat shortens the life of canned foods. The rule of thumb is to keep canned food in a dark location, out of direct sunlight, and where it will remain dry and cool.
Rust and Metal Cans
Food cans that are metal rust over time. This is one of the reasons that the location of your food storage needs to remain dry. Surface rust is usually not a problem; however, if there are dents in the metal or if the can is excessively rusted, or if it is swollen then throw it out as it is unsafe to consume.
Storage of Dried Foods
When it comes to food stores that are not canned, such as dry beans or powdered milk, make sure that you store them in a sealed bag and then placed in a sealed container or a second bag. Once opened, these foods must be used quickly. A good tip for extending the life of dried foods such as powdered milk is to double wrap them and then freeze them. Doing so allows you to use the food over an extended period before it spoils.
Boxed foods such as dried fruit should be carefully repackaged by opening the box and removing the sealed inner bag. Place the unopened inner bag into a jar with a screw top lid or a plastic container that allows easy visual inspection of the food without opening the outer container.
Conditions that Spoil Food
Food that becomes wet should be discarded because water is a prime source of contamination. Dried grains, flours should be kept in the freezer in a double sealed bag or container. All flours and many grains have insect eggs in them. If left at room temperature, the eggs will hatch and cause the food source to spoil.
Sure, weevils are like free protein, but do you really want your survival to be due to protein-rich weevil flour? If so, you can buy flour made from crickets. It’s great with chicken. All kidding aside, they really do sell cricket flour.
Food storage is a prime concern for anyone who stores emergency food. By understanding how long foods keep, helps preppers find better ways to manage their emergency supplies of food and make more informed decisions about how to prepare their emergency food stores.
Food Stability Chart
Here’s another look for reference:
|Food Type||Shelf Life||After Opening / Cooking|
|Rice and dried starches||2 years||3-4 days w/refrigeration|
|Low Acid Canned Goods (including most meats)||3-5 years||3-4 days w/refrigeration|
|High Acid Goods (tomatoes, tropical fruits, krauts, etc...)||1-2 years||1 week w/refrigeration|
|Jerked Meats (commercial)||1 year||N/A|
|Dry/hard Porks||6 weeks||3 weeks refrigerated|
|MREs||120 °F, 1 month|
100 °F, 1 1/2 years
90 °F, 2 1/2 years
80 °F, 4 years
70 °F, 4 1/2 years
60 °F, 7 years
|Unclear / depends on specific MRE|
|Seafood Pouches||1-2 years||4 days w/refrigeration|
|Dried Egg Whites||12 - 16 months||Reconstituted eggs should be used immediately (within 2-3 hours)|
With the long life of most commercially canned food and with the use of a good food rotation system, you can stock your emergency food cabinet with foods that you use. Commercially canned food is usually much less expensive than freeze-dried meals, and with a little planning, preppers can achieve the same or better results while cutting expenses and stocking up on quality, nutritious emergency foods.
David is an active prepper and freelance writer. He lives in rural Northern California in the shadow of an active volcano. He hunts and fishes as a means of providing. He brings a science background to his writing and discusses botany, biology, geology, and weather as they apply to live, growing your own food, and surviving. He is a master gardener and understands food production, storage, and preserving. He lives five miles down a single-lane road and he deals with power outages, wildfires, earthquakes, flooding, and crazy pot growers, raiders, medical emergencies, law enforcement and the potential of that volcano.
Shelf-Stable Food Safety – USDA – Scroll down to find the chart
How to Can Meat Products – Backdoor Survival
Selecting, Preparing and Canning Meat – National Center for Home Food Preservation
Most shelf-stable foods are safe indefinitely. In fact, canned goods will last for years, as long as the can itself is in good condition (no rust, dents, or swelling). Packaged foods (cereal, pasta, cookies) will be safe past the 'best by' date, although they may eventually become stale or develop an off flavor.How much canned food do you need to survive a year? ›
For canned meats and fish, we recommend 50 pounds of food per person. This will give you at least one pound per week for meals and should be plenty to last you for an entire year. For canned vegetables and fruits, you will need even more.
Canned food isn't laden with chemicals and preservatives because all the bacteria are killed during the canning process. This process allows sealed cans to remain fresh for years. Although most canned foods have no expiration date, it's not recommended to keep them longer than two years.What is the best canned food for survival? ›
The most nutritious canned foods are tuna and salmon, vegetables, grains, beans, and fruits. The next time you go shopping for canned food, make sure you add these to your list and then make them a part of your survival preparedness.Can you eat expired canned soup? ›
So is it safe to eat canned foods past their "expiration" date? While canned goods past their "best-by" date may not taste optimal, there's no real health risk in consuming canned goods as long as they remain in good condition.What foods should I stockpile for survival? ›
- Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, vegetables and a can opener.
- Protein or fruit bars.
- Dry cereal or granola.
- Peanut butter.
- Dried fruit.
- Canned juices.
- Non-perishable pasteurized milk.
- High-energy foods.
You can theoretically survive on canned food alone due to the advancements in canning technology in terms of sanitation and variety. However, the foods should be as nutritious as possible in order to give your body all the necessary vitamins and minerals that it needs to remain healthy.What food do preppers stock up on? ›
- Canned soups.
- Ready-to-eat canned meals.
- Meats (like chicken breast, Spam, beef hash) – Read more about canned meat and How long spam will last.
- Beans and lentils.
- Tuna, sardines, and other canned fish.
- Tomato sauce and paste.
Canning works by sealing the food (in this case, tuna) and whatever air there may be inside a container and then cooking it. The cooking sterilizes the interior contents, killing the bacteria that cause spoilage. So long as the can remains undamaged, new bacteria cannot reach the food, causing spoilage.How long will canned meat last? ›
Low acid canned goods like vegetables, canned meats, and soups should be eaten within 2-3 years past their expiration date.
Because the can is sealed, no new living microorganisms can get in. This is how canned foods can sit at room temperature for over a year and not spoil (Source: Shepard)!What foods are prepared for doomsday? ›
- Peanut butter. A great source of energy, peanut butter is chock-full of healthful fats and protein. ...
- Whole-wheat crackers. ...
- Nuts and trail mixes. ...
- Cereal. ...
- Granola bars and power bars. ...
- Dried fruits, such as apricots and raisins. ...
- Canned tuna, salmon, chicken, or turkey. ...
- Canned soups and chili.
- Legumes: Beans and Lentils.
- Rice (and Other Whole Grains?)
- Basic Meats That Matter.
- Healthy Fats and Oils.
- Don't Forget the Flavor.
- Shelf-Stable Protein Beyond the Meat.
- The Trifecta of Nuts.
- Canned tuna and salmon. These are great sources of protein. ...
- Canned sardines. ...
- Canned beans. ...
- Shelf-stable vegetables. ...
- Canned fruit. ...
- Mixed nuts. ...
- Milk options. ...
- Low-sodium veggie soups.
In short, no, bottled water doesn't “go bad.” In fact, the FDA doesn't even require expiration dates on water bottles. Although water itself doesn't expire, the bottle it comes in can expire, in a sense.Does spam expire? ›
Everything from canned pineapples to pork will stay fresh for a while. According to the USDA: "High-acid canned foods (e.g. tomatoes and fruits) will keep their best quality for 12 to 18 months. Whereas, low-acid canned foods (e.g. meats and vegetables) will keep for two to five years."What should I stock in case of war? ›
- Peanut Butter.
- Canned Tuna.
- Canned Meats.
- Beef Jerky.
Flour has a long shelf life but generally goes bad after 3–8 months. White flour may last longest due to its lower fat content, while whole-wheat and gluten-free varieties spoil sooner. You can extend flour's shelf life by sealing it properly or refrigerating or freezing it.Do I need to stock up on food 2022? ›
It looks like food shortages have continued into 2022. This is what might be causing the issue. After some signs of a slow and cautious return to pre-pandemic normalcy last year, 2022 is looking remarkably like fall 2020—and that means supply issues at grocery stores.
Build a stockpile of foods your family eats.
- Peanut butter.
- Canned tomatoes.
- Baking goods – flour, sugar, yeast, etc.
- Cooking oils.
- Canned vegetables and fruits.
- Bottled water.
- Shelf-stable fruits and vegetables.
- Beans and lentils.
- Peanut butter.
- Shelf-stable milk.
- Shelf-stable meat options.
Still, if rice and beans is all you've got, it's a pretty decent choice. But "you're not going to have a complete diet," she says. The combo lacks Vitamin C and other essential nutrients. "It's extremely important that you eat meat and vegetables," Campos says.Can you live off canned beans? ›
But is it possible to live on beans and rice alone? You can live on just beans and rice, but it isn't recommended. Although beans and rice can offer sufficient amounts of protein, the dish won't provide you with the other essential vitamins and minerals you need to stay healthy.Can you survive on one meal a day? ›
For most people, there are no serious dangers involved in eating one meal a day, other than the discomforts of feeling hungry. That said, there are some risks for people with cardiovascular disease or diabetes. Eating one meal a day can increase your blood pressure and cholesterol.How much food should I store for prepping? ›
Stockpile enough food to provide at least 2000 calories and 1 gallon of water per day, per person for an emergency or natural disaster. The minimum storage requirement for the 72-hour emergency kit, suggested by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is 6000 calories and 3 gallons of water per person.How much emergency food should I have? ›
If you are planning on storing food for a natural disaster or an emergency, you should store at least a gallon of water and 2000 calories of food for each day for a single person, according to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).How long does canned food last in Mason jars? ›
Also, the jar may not seal properly because there will not be enough processing time to drive all the air out of the jar. How long will canned food keep? Properly canned food stored in a cool, dry place will retain optimum eating quality for at least 1 year.How can you tell if canned food is bad? ›
The container spurts liquid or foam when you open it. The food inside is discolored, moldy, or smells bad.How long will canned meat last? ›
Low acid canned goods like vegetables, canned meats, and soups should be eaten within 2-3 years past their expiration date.
Everything from canned pineapples to pork will stay fresh for a while. According to the USDA: "High-acid canned foods (e.g. tomatoes and fruits) will keep their best quality for 12 to 18 months. Whereas, low-acid canned foods (e.g. meats and vegetables) will keep for two to five years."How long do canned potatoes last? ›
Shelf Life Tips
Properly stored, an unopened can of potatoes will generally stay at best quality for about 3 to 5 years, although it will usually remain safe to use after that.
Canned foods can be stored virtually indefinitely, but both taste and nutrition may suffer as the years tick by. Store canned foods in a cool, dry place; dependable recommendations typically indicate that good storage will maintain quality for 2 to 5 years.How long are home-canned pickles good for? ›
Therefore, you can keep unopen jars in a pantry for up to one year, while opened ones can stay safe for consumption for about three months when stored in the fridge.Can botulism grow in vinegar? ›
Because vinegar is high in acid, it does not support the growth of Clostridium botulinum bacteria. However, some vinegars may support the growth of Escherichia coli bacteria.How long does it take for botulism to grow in canned food? ›
Canned food is a convenient and healthy way to enjoy your favorite foods, but it's important to remember to follow a few safety precautions when home canning. So, how long does it take for botulism to grow in canned food? Well, under the right conditions, the spores can produce deadly toxins within 3 to 4 days.How can you tell if a canned food has botulism? ›
the container is leaking, bulging, or swollen; the container looks damaged, cracked, or abnormal; the container spurts liquid or foam when opened; or. the food is discolored, moldy, or smells bad.Is SPAM a good survival food? ›
Does SPAM have a shelf life? ›