Home Canning Safety—How Long Your Canned Foods Are Good For

Canned food shelf lifeIf you’re like me you take great pride in your homemade canned creations.  Whether you are canning to save money, because you enjoy to cook, or to support green living, you want to ensure that the food can is enjoyed well before it expires.

Creating a system for proper processing, storage, labeling, and rotation is the best way to reduce waste and keep your canned goods safe to consume.

Proper Processing

The most important step in your canning process is creating a strong vacuum seal and ensuring that any micro-organisms are killed in the heating-process.  No short cuts and no rushing when it comes to processing and sealing your jars.  Whether you use water-bath canning or pressure canning follow the canning directions precisely to ensure you will have safe food with a long shelf life.


Proper storage is not to be underestimated.  Ideally all canned goods should be stored in a temperature controlled environment.  If you have to store in your basement, attic, or garage make sure your canned goods are not subjected to direct sunlight, moisture, or temperatures above 75 degrees.  All of these factors can cause your canned creations to spoil prior to their expiration date.


If you are an avid canner you need to ensure that you have a clear system in which you are rotating your homemade creations consistently.  Set up a labeling system so that you know what your contents are and date each can by the date of processing your batch OR by the date of expiration.  You can label your jars with a marker on the lid or on labeling stickers that can be place on the side of the jar or  top of lid.  The most important part is that you create a system and are consistent.  Remember FIFO—First In, First Out


Expiration is not the only indicator that your homemade canned goods are not safe to eat.  Always check each canned good for signs of spoilage before you enjoy them.  Signs that your canned creations have spoiled before expiration are:

  • Loose or bulging lids.
  • Seeping from a sealed jar.
  • Mold or mildew on the lid, jar or on food.
  • Rust on the lids.
  • Bubbly or foaming contents when opening.
  • Foul odor.

If any of these signs are present your food has spoiled.

Just remember—When it doubt throw it out!

Expiration Dates

A general rule of thumb is that your canned creations should be enjoyed within one year of being canned to ensure they are safe for you and your loved ones to enjoy.  Below are the expiration dates for your canned creations:

Preserves, Jams, & Jellies. After 12 months the color of your preserves will start to darken.  This will not necessarily affect its safety for consumption, but the change in color is often unappealing and unappetizing.  You may even see the consistence of the contents begin to change.  Try to consume within one year of processing to best enjoy your preserve, jam or jelly.

Low PH Foods. Low PH foods like meat, soups, and vegetables that are not in vinegar have a longer shelf life.  You can test the PH of your food by purchasing litmus strips.  If the PH is less than 4.5 your canned creations can last for anywhere from 2-5 years.  However, the sooner that you consume your canned goods, the better the flavor profile will be.

High PH Foods. High PH foods that are higher than 4.5 such as fruits, pickles or anything with vinegar base should be consumed within 12 months of canning.  After 12 months the flavor profile will begin to drastically change and the foods texture will begin to change.

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