This morning I found a tin of baked beans with a best before date of August 2014. A colleague of mine told me that it's perfectly safe to eat, and that tinned foods never go off.

Can this be true? Do tinned foods last forever?

  • 2
    Although canned food decades old can be safe ... if the can's puffed out, it's a sign of an anaerobic digestion, and may not be safe. Also if it smells off or looks really strange, trust your body's warning systems. That being said, if held at reasonable temperatures, I wouldn't even blink at most stuff held for 2x their recommended shelf life. But pickle slices get all limp and nasty if they're a decade past.
    – Joe
    Sep 11, 2014 at 13:00
  • Related: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/46722/…
    – yuritsuki
    Sep 11, 2014 at 19:12

5 Answers 5


Assuming the can was canned properly and has not been damaged, the contents are effectively sterile, because the food is boiled in the can after it's sealed. There might be some degradation in texture and taste, but in terms of food safety, they are effectively safe.

Note that the date on your tin is given as Best Before, not Use By. That generally means it's safe to eat after the given date, but it won't be at its... best. Given that you're only 12 days out of August, and with the proviso of exercising due caution (don't eat them if they're green), you should be just fine.

  • Thanks. Does this mean that tales of 60 year old tinned spam, etc, being edible could be true? Are there limits? Sep 11, 2014 at 12:39
  • 5
    Absolutely. Assuming the canning was done to a good standard, and the can itself is undamaged (inside and out - acidic foods like canned tomatoes may cause issues), tinned food can definitely last many years. Sep 11, 2014 at 12:41
  • I've eaten army-surplus stuffed cabbage several decades after its nominal use-by date, and it wasn't any worse than you'd expect army cooking to be... (Wish I had a few more of those large tins; they make great "emergency rations" when the power is out or you suddenly have to feed a crowd.)
    – keshlam
    Sep 12, 2014 at 6:22

Below is a direct copy of my reply to a question about expiration dates. Of course, in a sampling of old & new canned goods, they found that they preferred the old ones. (and they discussed a few foods that intentionally fermented in cans)

Lucky Peach ran an article by Harold McGee on canned goods that mentions:

Standard canned goods aren’t generally deemed age-worthy. Food technologists define shelf life not by how long it takes for food to become inedible, but how long it takes for a trained sensory panel to detect a “just noticeable difference” between newly manufactured and stored cans. There’s no consideration of whether the difference might be pleasant in its own way or even an improvement—it’s a defect by definition.

I have no idea what their standards are for storage; in the case of MREs, the shelf-life is calculated based on the storage temperature. I would assume that this would hold true for many products.

update : I just re-read the whole article I linked to, and it suggests that shelf live is temperature sensitive (and that it's used to approximate age for testing purposes):

The trouble with aging canned goods is that it takes years to get results. However, we can take a hint from manufacturers, who often accelerate shelf-life tests by storing foods at high temperatures. A general rule of thumb is that the rate of chemical reactions approximately doubles with each 20-degree rise in temperature. Store foods at 40 degrees above normal—around 100 degrees—and you can get an idea of a year’s change in just three months. But it’s possible to go further. At 120 degrees, you get a year’s worth of change in six weeks; at 140 degrees, three weeks; at 180 degrees, five days.

  • 3
    Note that the temperatures in the Harold McGee article appear to be in Fahrenheit. Sep 11, 2014 at 13:18
  • Very interesting quote in the update! Thanks @joe
    – Max
    Sep 11, 2014 at 21:06

This is quite a common question and the simple answer is yes (within reason). Tinned food has been found that is 100 years old and still edible. For food this old, there would likely be a loss of the original taste.

As your tinned food is less than a month past its "best by" date there would be no problem in eating this. So long as food is stored around room temperature then it would be safe to eat for many years. Also make sure that the tin is not buckled or damaged in any way.


I've kept cans of beans etc for fifteen years and there still fine, if there misshapen or damaged don't use them.


I just had a tin of ambrosia rice pudding that was a whole year out of date and it was perfectly fine. Tasted and smelled normal.

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