Is the food too old? / aka when to can the can

(Recently I saw a forum question, “How to tell when to toss cans that have rust on the outside?” And it got me to thinking more about what was inside the can.)

As preppers we store food. We rotate and use our items regularly. (First in First Out ) But sometimes we don’t, it gets old and unused for whatever reason.

What is too old? First, you have to at least open it up (don’t just throw it away based on what the outside looks like). Assess what’s inside. Do you own little prepper experiment.

IF you HAD to eat it to survive, could you? Modern day food processing is pretty amazing. Look at the color and consistency. Smell it. If it looks okay and smells okay, taste a little (it won’t kill you). Again, could you eat it if you had to?

Here are the timeframes we’ve (very unofficially) determined that we’re generally comfortable with:

– Cans (that require a can opener): 6 years

– Cans with pull rings: 2 years (these are not sealed as well and mold frequently develops in them prematurely)

– Cheese: I’ve left a sealed package out in the garage as an experiment for 10 months, the package swelled, and some oils pooled, but it tasted fine — just much sharper. In the refrigerator: 2+ years

– Sour cream (16oz) / cream cheese (12oz) (refrigerated): 6 months. We buy small containers — once opened use them within about a week.

– Half and Half (64oz) (refrigerated): 3+ months

– Greek Yogurt (32oz) (refrigerated): 6+ months

– Cottage Cheese (16oz): <6 weeks (and it’ll be obviously moldy if it’s bad)

– Beer: room temperature/dark: 3 – 9 months, refrigerated: up to 2 years. It’s important to remember old beer doesn’t become dangerous to drink, it just gets old and can taste skunky or sour — but it’s harmless to the body. Essentially if it tastes fine, drink it.

– Saltines: I recently came across a sealed packages from ‘13, they tasted sour/salty almost like baking soda — but the sheep and chickens loved them.

– Frozen Meat: At the bottom of the (big) deep freezer we came across some butchered pork from ‘17, 5 years old. I was skeptical and gave some to the dogs, but it didn’t look bad. It was wrapped in plastic, then in butcher paper and the meat still looked good and wasn’t freezer burned. Experimentally we cooked some up in the crock pot, letting the pork shoulder cook on low overnight — and it was great. Great flavor and great consistency, we’ll (carefully, inspecting as we go) use the rest of it. (Edit added 2/13)

What to do with TOO OLD? I make pigcycles.  I pour the contents of all the old cans into large bowls, stir them together into a slop, spoon them into quart ziplock bags, then freeze them. Then I’ll give them to our pig, or chickens, or occasionally our dogs on a hot day as a treat. 

[Disclaimer: This is only my opinion and advice, old food should only be eaten in a survival situation.]

  • Comments (5)

    • 5

      I have 2 experiences to share on this topic!

      the first dates back nearly 40 years to my mother opening a small tin of commercially produced tomato purée. As soon as she broke the pressure seal with the can opener it exploded and the kitchen looked like a scene from a horror movie!

      Last week I was having a quick beach clean up following a storm and came across a can of pre-mixed gin and tonic! Slightly out of date but still sealed, just a little muddy! My husband declined the offer to open it but it got me to thinking about how desperate would you need to be to consume it?

      I’m a great believer in using my senses to tell if something is not edible. I have limited storage space to make rotations easy (plus others in the house often don’t bother) so I date check my pantry twice a year and use up anything short dated. Occasionally I have things that are past their best before date, but I also know that this is not an absolute. I will touch, smell and taste but ‘if In doubt, cast out’ as my great-grandmother used to say! 

      • 4

        Isn’t that how we learned what was edible or not? Back in 45,000 BC, Tuk Tuk would go around and sniff, touch, and lick a bush before finally trying some of it’s leaves. If he didn’t die or throw up then he knew that bush was good to eat. 

        We have those senses to know when food is good or not, we need to use them.

      • 3

        I agree Bradical seems to be one of the many natural senses we are loosing. 

      • 3

        We’re spoiled now that food is so readily available. But we prepare for a time when it might not be — learn to be prepared to be able to assess what is good and what is not by being aware of those things now. 

    • 2

      I added/edited in a Frozen Meat category to the original post. We found some 5 year old butchered pork, it looked good, we experimentally crock potted it and it came out great. 

      As we use up the rest I’ll try the insta pot next time.