Skip to content

Gifford-Jones: How safe and nutritious are stored canned goods?

With all the preparation for another crisis, don't forget a can opener.
Canned goods are safe and a good idea to have on hand for any emergency. Dr. Gifford-Jones explains. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

 Are you sufficiently prepared for another crisis? What might possibly be the next disaster?  You might argue, we are not yet out of the mess of the current one.  And this should have us all thinking about keeping stock of essential supplies.  Have you got the things you need? What about canned foods? How nutritious are they compared to fresh produce?  How long do they last stored in the pantry, or under the bed? And when can they kill you?

Even without a pandemic it’s prudent to have a supply of canned goods. Remember the last snowstorm, flood, or natural disaster, when it was too dangerous to get to a store or no power to cook food.

How safe are canned foods?

Compared to fresh produce, canned foods are far less likely to cause illness. The canning process used by commercial producers keeps food safe for long periods of time. Air-tight containers and the application of heat to destroy microorganisms prevent spoilage. The canning process also deactivates enzymes that cause food to break down.

How long can canned goods be stored?

First, take a good look at the can. It should not be rusted, dented, or leaking. Moreover, if the can is swollen this means harmful bacteria are present. So, if there is any doubt, dispose of the can where it cannot harm anyone. Write down the date you purchased them. Authorities say that the safe limit for acidic foods such as tomatoes and other fruit is 18 months. For canned vegetables, beans, meat, and poultry, two to five years. The best storage temperature is 50 to 75 degrees F.

What about the nutritional value of canned food?

A quick assumption might be they’re not as nutritious as fresh or frozen foods. But not so fast in labelling them less nutritious! Foods, when they arrive at the company don’t sit around waiting to be canned. Rather, they’re canned within hours locking in their nutrients. However, the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture says the heating of canned foods does cause a loss of vitamins C and B. Contrast this to fresh food that, after harvesting, may travel many miles under less than ideal conditions before reaching you. During that interval it also loses some nutritious value. And, with canned tomatoes and carrots, heating the can increases the release of carotenoids from the cell wall increasing their nutritional value. So, take your choice!

Look out for salt and sugar

If you cannot find a No Salt or Low Salt option, drain the liquid from the can and rinse the food in water to lower the salt content. Do the same for sugar and look for No Sugar Added or fruit that is packed in water.

Can you safely store leftovers in an opened can?

This is not a problem. But to preserve quality and flavour, it’s better to place food in a storage container with a lid.

What should you store?

It’s personal preference. But consider canned sardines and salmon high in protein and calcium. Sardines are low on the food chain, so less likely to contain contaminants such as larger fish like tuna. And don’t forget canned tomatoes and other vegetables.

Sign-up at to receive our weekly e-newsletter.  For comments,