What about the shelf life of canned food?

We know that the actual shelf life of food usually exceeds the statutory best before date. It's not called best before date for nothing.

In the case of tinned food however, the shelf life is usually even many times longer than the BBD indicated on the product as the following reports also show.

As also explained under the heading "What determines the shelf life of staple foods?", several factors of course also have an influence on tinned food. A crucial factor for tinned food is of course also a matter of what kind of food is concerned and whether it has not only been canned but also heated or treated by autoclave (briefly heat treated) (tinned food / preserved food). Apart from my recommendation to store tinned food as cool as possible in favour of its shelf life, consistency and its taste, I would at this point however, in fact like to show a few examples which should come as a surprise to most.

cite_CFA_ENGL.jpg As the Canned Food Alliance (CFA), an American federation of food manufacturers as well as tin and steel manufacturers among others have announced, tinned food virtually has an unlimited shelf life in the case of moderate storage conditions (temperatures up to 23°C).

When asked how long tinned food remains edible or rather how long it maintains its nutritional value, the CFA experts answered as follows:

"Canned food has a shelf life of at least two years from the date of processing. Canned food retains its safety and nutritional value well beyond two years, but it may have some variation in quality, such as a change of color and texture. Canning is a high-heat process that renders the food commercially sterile. Food safety is not an issue in products kept on the shelf or in the pantry for long periods of time. In fact, canned food has an almost indefinite shelf life at moderate temperatures (75° Fahrenheit and below). Canned food as old as 100 years has been found in sunken ships and it is still microbiologically safe! We don't recommend keeping canned food for 100 years, but if the can is intact, it is edible. Rust or dents do not affect the contents of the can as long as the can does not leak. If the can is leaking, however, or if the ends are bulged, the food should not be used." (source: http://www.mealtime.org).


Canned bread from the Second World War edible

As the WELT newspaper already reported in July 2002, an 84 year old man found a box with 20 cans of bread from the Second World War. Eventually he gave these cans to the European Bread Museum in Ebergötzen (Northern Germany). The Food Surveillance Authority of the responsible district Osterholz-Scharmbeck examined the dark rye bread and classified it as "still edible". Experts were amazed. According to contemporary witnesses and experts the shelf life of canned bread is approx. ten years, nevertheless, even today, the indicated best before date is still only a modest two years.

So canned bread can achieve a shelf life of more than 50 years!


Briton eats 50 year old canned chicken

On the occasion of their wedding in 1956, the British couple Les and Beryl Lailey received a can filled with chicken meat among other things. They kept the can in a kitchen cabinet until their 50th wedding anniversary, until Mr. Lailey could carry out his plan: He had always said that he would open and eat the contents of the can on his 50th wedding anniversary. The 50 year old chicken tasted excellent to the 73 year old and it agreed well with him. It was merely a little bit too salty according to Mr. Lailey.


Canned butter and canned cheese can be maintained for a very long time

During our research on canned butter and canned cheese we, on the one hand, came across the widely spread information of a shelf life of at least ten years and on the other hand of best before dates only amounting to 1-2 years on the manufacturer side.

Upon enquiring with one of the largest US suppliers of items for crisis provision, we received interesting information. According to this supplier, manufacturers of canned cheese or butter would not indicate longer shelf lives due to the fact alone that they in turn only get a two year guarantee on the cans from their supplier and do not want to assume any liability beyond that. The fact is that cheese pasteurised in a can should be microbiologically safe no matter when it is opened as long as the can remains closed and no oxygen gets into it.

The American food safety authorities only demand a BBD on products in the case that an acceptable shelf life study cannot be submitted which absolutely, comprehensively verifies that the product can be maintained for more than 5 years. However, the manufacturers only see a point in undertaking the respective effort for this in very few cases. The above-named US supplier as an importer of canned cheese and canned butter however, has commissioned such a study himself, paid the fees to the American USDA and without modifications passed with flying colours. Indeed they now no longer need to indicate a BBD as they were able to verify the shelf life of 5 years. Nevertheless, the university which conducted the study on behalf of the USDA also did not want to guarantee a shelf life which exceeds the five years. After all, they would then in return have to assume the respective liability.

Furthermore, in a discussion with the quality manager of a European cheese manufacturer, we found out that although they can only offer a specially produced canned cheese with a one year shelf life in line with an unbroken cooling chain, an employee recently gave a 7 year old can of cheese which he stored in his own basement to the laboratory and received certification of the microbiological, impeccable state of the cheese! The cheese tasted superb. .