I think we’ve all done it at least once. You’re going through your pantry and you find a can of pickles or perhaps some peaches stuffed way back in the back. You scratch your head in confusion. When was the last time you even canned peaches? And, more importantly, is it still safe to eat?
There are a lot of different factors to consider when deciding if a home canned good is still safe to eat. Things to consider include age, the quality of the canned good, where it was stored, and most importantly, the integrity of the jar. We’ll take a look at each to try and help you decide.
Where was the jar stored?
Canned goods should ideally be stored in a cool, dark place with temperatures between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. You should avoid freezing the jars or storing them above temperatures of 95 degrees Fahrenheit. In both conditions, jars will quickly lose flavor, consistency, nutritional content, and may even spoil in hotter conditions. So, if your jar was stored properly, then that’s one check mark.
How does the jar and its contents look?
The integrity of the jar is important. Improperly sealed jars will, obviously, spoil. However, if the jar is older than a year, sometimes it may not stay sealed properly. If the jar is unsealed or shows signs of spoilage, then you’ll need to dispose of it.
Signs of spoilage include cloudy water, mold, dried or discolored portions at the top of the jar, leakage, rising air bubbles, or an odd smell. If you see any of these signs, then the jar and its contents should be disposed of. Get more information on identifying spoiled food here.
How old is too old?
According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, canned goods can be eaten safely within the first year of canning. After the first year, the quality and taste of the food may change, but if all of the conditions are right, foods can keep for a bit longer than that. I’ve heard stories of people eating food three or even four years later without any trouble, but that doesn’t mean that every can will still be good three years later. Always look on your older cans with suspicion.
What to do if you’re still feeling dubious
If you are feeling nervous about a canned good or find yourself unsure if it’s still good, then the best policy is to throw it out. I know, it’s hard to throw out all that work, and disposing of food kind of goes against the entire purpose of canning. However, botulism is a real threat and your family’s health isn’t worth the risk.
When in doubt, throw it out and simply can less the next year.