9 Signs of Canned Food Going Bad [Your Complete Guide]

Imagine this: You just found a can of beans on your kitchen table. You shake it and hear 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 ingesting potentially harmful food.

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 smell slightly sour and yucky. This is when you should just throw it out .

This 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!

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. Another tell-tale sign is the presence of rust and mold on it. Chuck it straight to the bin in that case.

4. The produce looks bad

Fresh foods tend to spoil easily and quickly, which 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. Fungus growth inside

moldy food

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 find that funky smell. 

Unless there’s a leak or opening in the can, it’s not likely to grow on the outside. But if it does, then make sure to get rid of it as soon as possible. Not only has it become a health hazard, this growth can spread to the other cans and food items sharing the same space with it. 

6. The lid is bulging

Some canned foods, such as fruit and soups, tend to bulge, especially when they’re old. This is a good indicator, even without opening the can, that the contents are no longer good for consumption. 

Skip bulging cans on the store shelves and save your money instead. If you find one in your pantry, take it straight to the bin, or open to dump its contents first on the sink to ensure nobody else gets to consume it.

7. The food is missing a lot of the contents

Sometimes, you will find that the contents of an opened can has significantly diminished. This means that pests or bacteria have most likely gotten to it. 

Foods that have high fructose corn syrup especially can be very attractive for insects and germs. 

8. The Best By date is expired

expired canned food examples

Most of the time, canned goods will have an expiration date on it. These are typically expressed as the “Best By” or “Best Before” date. 

Although some would argue that it does not necessarily mean the food contents will go bad exactly on that date, it does, at the very least, mean that the quality may not be its best anymore. 

That’s why stores may also clear their shelves, or put up sales with huge price drops for products closer to their expiration date. If you’re certain you will be opening the can within the optimum dates for good quality, then sure, go ahead and buy them. 

But otherwise, if you’re only thinking of stocking them in your pantry, you might want to reach for the can with a faraway Best By date.

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 old 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 they would be if you got them straight off the produce section. 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 safely preserved — to 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. 

Furthermore, 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

powdered milk

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.


There is no doubt that canned goods can last a long time and provide nutritious food for a lot of people. However, just like any other perishable goods, proper food handling must still be observed.

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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2 thoughts on “9 Signs of Canned Food Going Bad [Your Complete Guide]”

  1. I usually trust my judgment by the way the food looks and smells. Sometimes, if the canned food still looks good and doesn’t smell all that bad, I think maybe the canned food is still edible. It’s nice to know more than just that thanks for this blog!


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