Expired Canned Food: 9 Signs of Canned Food Going Bad

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Imagine this: You just found a can of beans on your kitchen table. You shake it and hear that the contents slosh around inside, and nothing appears to be leaking out. Of course, you’re happy because you saved a fortune by grabbing this canned food from the discount bin at your local grocery store before it was too late.

But there’s still one more thing you need to do before popping the top open — check if it’s expired (or close to expiration) and whether or not that means it’ll go bad quickly. 

Here are 9 signs of expired canned food so you don’t end up with wasted money, lost time, and to save you from potentially health-harming food.

1. It hasn't been stored well

An expired canned good may not necessarily mean it’s spoiled, but it also doesn’t mean it’s not. Depending on how hot or cold the storage areas are where your food is kept, there will be a noticeable difference. If the cans of food that you’re looking at have dents on them or have leaked slightly, you might want to skip them because that means they’ve been exposed to temperature variations that could compromise their quality.

2. The smell is off

When canned food goes bad, there’s usually a stench that accompanies it. The food may also smell slightly sour, and yucky. This is when you should just throw it out — this smell indicates that the canned food has gotten contaminated from the inside. It’s too far gone for any of your culinary efforts to save it, so you might as well not try. The old saying about “if it smells bad, don’t eat it” applies to this situation as well!

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3. Check the lid

The lids of cans of food are usually vacuum-sealed to keep them fresh and hygienic. When you take the top off your can, do you see any signs of leakage or other problems? If there are, there’s a chance that it could be spoiled. And if you see any moisture on the inside of the lid, it’s best to skip it.

4. The produce looks bad

Like most canned foods, this one is fresh. But as fresh foods tend to spoil easily and quickly, this is why you need to check for signs that it’s not fresh already. There may be some sign of spoilage, such as mold or discoloration. You can also check the can to see if there are any signs of leakage, such as wet spots or rips on the bottom.

5. The interior has fungus

Yes, you’re reading this right: When canned food goes bad, it usually has fungus growing in it. You may not know what that is until you bring it home from the store and smell that funky smell. If you do notice this is one of the telltale signs that something’s just not right with the food inside your can, you should skip it because fungus will spread easily and quickly from your cans to everything else in your space.

6. The lid is bulging

Some canned foods, such as fruit and soups, tend to bulge a bit when you open them. Sure, it’s a good thing that the food inside remains fresh, but within 2-3 days the can will either explode or you will have a can of mush that completely fell apart on its own due to bacterial growth. And if there are any signs of broken seals or leakage from the top of your cans, skip them because they may be spoiled too.

7. The food is missing a lot of the contents

If you look at the inner can, you will notice that most of the food inside has been eaten by pests or bacteria. This is because these insects and germs are attracted to it since it contains high fructose corn syrup. Corn syrup itself is pretty delicious, but when it gets into contact with insect larvae (or other competing microbes), there will be a problem.

8. The expiration date is expired

expired canned food examples

Most of the time, canned goods will have an expiration date on it, but they may also be found with a “Best By” or “Best Before” date. These are usually used when in-store freshness is still important, but the store won’t necessarily want to sell them for too long — people tend to think canned stuff is still edible even after it’s past that date, so they take it and give it away since no one will return them.

On one hand, there’s no harm in doing this since the food you’re buying will be edible for a while. Though, if you take a look at some of the pictures above, you can see that it’s usually not that safe to eat.

So if you’re going to buy a can of food and have no idea how fresh it is, just make sure it has an expiration date on it!

9. The label has yellow streaks

When foods go bad (especially the ones that are canned), they tend to get yellow on their labels. This happens when a chemical in the product gets exposed to light or high temperatures (both of which make the contents start losing its quality). As a result, you will notice yellow streaks on the label of the canned food, especially if you’re looking at it from a black background.

Best canned foods you should buy for survival scenarios

All canned foods will keep their contents fresh for a certain period of time, but not all of them provide the same level of nutrition. This is why it’s important to always check if the canned goods you’re buying are packed with nutrients — not just any ole food that’s been canned.

Luckily, we’ve done some research to help you out. Here are the best canned foods that will serve as your survival food during an emergency (or should you need to stock up on them today).

1. Vegetables and fruits

canned vegetables to buy at grocery stores

You can now buy dried fruits and vegetables, but they aren’t fresh the way that they were when they were left on the branches or in trees before being picked and put in cans. And since they’re dried, they tend to lose some of their nutrients.

On the other hand, canned fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals — and freshness — that can give you the energy you need to stay on your feet longer during an emergency. Plus, canned fruits and vegetables tend to be cheaper than the ones that are frozen or fresh.

2. Dried beans and nuts

Dried beans tend to be one of the most nutritious foods you can find. They contain vitamins and minerals that can help you get through the day, but also give you enough energy to do tasks you need to do. The thing is, canned beans are a lot cheaper than the ones that are dried and require further cooking before they become useful. Not only that, but canned beans last a long time, giving you great savings.

3. Powdered milk and eggs

The freshness of dried milk isn’t always guaranteed, so having access to powdered milk or powdered eggs is very important in an emergency. While powdered milk may not be as nutritious as fresh milk, it will help you get all the nutrients you need if fresh milk isn’t available or if you can’t use it during an emergency.

Conclusion:

There is no doubt that canned food can last a long time and provide nutritious food for a lot of people. However, most canned foods are just as bad as the fresh foods since there are so many bugs inside them — though you may never know this until it’s too late.

As we’ve seen above, there are some signs to look for when trying to determine the freshness of canned foods. However, while they’re not 100% safe just because of how old they are, we think that water storage containers should be treated with more care than their canned counterparts.

That’s why you should always make sure that:

  • Your container is airtight and has a tight lid.
  • The container is made of food-grade plastic.
  • The container has a handle so that you can carry it around when you go hiking or camping.
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