By Bob Difley
In last week’s blog I wrote about keeping our onboard food stores save from pathogens. But the other half of the story is, how long can we keep stored canned, bulk, and frozen, foods before they either go bad or transmogrify into something else. The good news is that most canned food will last for two years and longer. Even the two year figure is arbitrary. If the can’s seal is not broken it can last for years and years longer.
How much longer? There was a report of a canned meat opened after 118 years and it was fine (canned meats can last the longest). The age of the can is not the big question–after all how long are you going to keep cans in your RV? Five years, ten years? Doubtful. The cans will outlast your RV.
But to be safe, if you follow these storage hints on food you intend to store for emergencies, or when you’re trying to stretch a couple more days into your boondocking trips, you can eliminate your food safety worries.
- Write the date of purchase on the top of the can with a permanent marker.
- Store in cool dry compartment. We RVers have to deal with bigger temperature swings than at home, but the cooler you can keep the cans the less chance they will have of overheating.
- Low acid foods (soups without tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, pumpkin, peas) will last longer than highly acidic food (tomatoes, fruit, and foods with a lot of vinegar in them).
- Before using, inspect can for dents (a can with a large dent can have a broken seal even if you can’t see it), bulging (a bad sign–throw these out immediately), and leaking (also throw out).
- Never eat canned food that has a strange odor, color, or flavor, or that spurts when it is opened. Chuck it.
The Food Reference website states: 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° F and below). Canned food as old as 100 years has been found in sunken ships and it is still microbiologically safe!
In canned foods, preservatives are used to maintain quality. The canning process keeps it safe. If a product is correctly processed, it should remain safe until opened or the seal is broken. The U.S. Army has found that canned meats, vegetables and jam were in “excellent states of preservation” after 46 years.
For other bulk foods, packaged and frozen, this chart will offer some broad guidelines on storage of these foods.
For more RVing and boondocking tips, visit my Healthy RV Lifestyle website and also check out my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands, Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts, and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang our of your RV Lifestyle Buck.