"A wise and frugal government which shall restrain men
from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government."
(Thomas Jefferson)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Shelf Life of Canned Goods

Today when it is already 106 degrees out and heading higher, decided that it was time to donate items from my pantry which were about ready to expire to the food pantry as they are fast running out of canned goods.  As I was going through the pantry, I started putting cans on the counter top that their dates had already passed when I realized that I had just purchased some of the cans.  Other cans had no dates.  Decided I had better check out those dates before tossing them in the trash.

Turns out the date I was using stamped on the bottom or top of the cans was the date there were canned not the date to throw out as I found out when I went on line.  That meant grabbing a jar of peanut butter out of the waste can I had not opened but I thought had expired on June 30, 2011.  The first site I visited, Food Reference had the details I was looking for:
One of the most frequently asked questions about canned food is its shelf life and "use-by" dates. The codes that are stamped on canned food are manufacturers' codes that usually designate the date the product was packaged. The codes vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and usually include coding for time and place of canning. Most manufacturers offer a toll-free number to call for questions about canned food expiration dates. For a sampling of how to read product codes, See at the Food Reference website. 
Remember, the code stamped on the can is when it was packaged. The general rule of thumb is that canned food has a shelf life of at least two years from the date of purchase. It is recommended that all canned food be stored in moderate temperatures (75° F and below). 
Many canned products now have a "for best quality use by" date stamped on the top or bottom of the can. "Expiration" dates are rarely found on canned food.
It turns out that even the date "for best quality use by" doesn't mean the food is not safe even though it may have a different texture.

Since I am an avid reader and would read things like food safety, I totally missed that most dates on the cans was when they were canned not an expiration date which is found on very few canned goods.  How many people have thrown out cans because we thought the date was the expiration date?  I know I am one of them but it is not going to happen again.  If you have a hurricane package put together, forget about throwing out the canned goods by date.

Who benefits the most from all of us tossing our canned food periodically?  The canning industry, growers, groceries, state governments who collect taxes on groceries, etc.?   Seems to me in this time of people trying to be frugal with their money, this would be well advertised in the groceries so we don't toss out food unnecessarily, but I have not seen an

Here is some more info from the Ohio State Extension Office:
Chow Line: Meaning of dates on canned goods varies (for 8/29/10)8/20/2010
Most canned goods seem to have dates or codes on the bottom of the can. Are these expiration dates? If so, how do I read the ones that are in code?
Canned goods don't really have expiration dates. Most canned products have a "best if used by" date, after which the quality of the food may deteriorate, but it still would be safe to eat. Other products may have the date that the product was packaged, or a code indicating its packing date. That and other information, such as which plant manufactured the product, can be used to track the item in case of a recall or other problem.
Unfortunately, there's no standard method for dating or coding used by all canned good manufacturers. If you're curious about the products on your pantry shelves, probably the easiest thing to do is to call the company and ask. Almost all companies that produce canned goods put a toll-free number right on the can.

Most canned goods remain safe and retain their quality for several years. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), low-acid canned foods such as meat, poultry, fish and most vegetables will keep fine for two to five years; high-acid foods, such as tomatoes, grapefruit and pineapple, have a shorter shelf-life -- about 12 to 18 months. After that time, you may notice deterioration in color, texture or flavor.

A few things to keep in mind:
  • If a can shows any signs of bulging or leaking, throw it away immediately. Bulging indicates the food has the deadly botulinum toxin. The toxin is extremely rare in commercially canned foods, but it's been known to happen. Don't let curiosity or frugality cloud your better judgment -- just get rid of it.
  • Don't let canned foods freeze. The food could expand and break the can's seal, letting microbes in. While few people would put a canned food item in the freezer, a can could roll out of a grocery store bag in your trunk, and if it's in the middle of winter and there's a chance the food inside the can froze, then pitch it.
  • Slight dents in cans aren't unusual and, as long as the can isn't leaking and the product seems fine, it's safe to consume. But steer clear of severely dented cans -- they're not worth the risk.
  • Pay strict attention to "use-by" dates on infant formula and baby food. That ensures the products have retained their nutrients and remain high quality. According to the FSIS, formula stored too long can separate and clog the nipple on a baby bottle.
Consider this a public service announcement for the day and hopefully saves someone some money from not tossing out canned goods due to the date stamped on the bottom or top that is the canning date.

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