Is my food storage safe to eat?


Many Utah County residents believe storing food at home for emergencies is a good idea, but after the food has been there a while they wonder if it’s still good to eat. The USDA has given guidelines to know when food is safe to eat and how to help preserve its taste and quality. (Photo from

You’re standing there in your basement with a very old can of soup in your hand. You bought the soup about 10 years ago, along with various other food items, as part of your food storage program. You search for an expiration date on the can but find none.

Do you dare to eat it?

A good New Year’s resolution might be to examine the food you have stored in your basement and in your freezer in the garage to determine if it’s still safe to eat.

Such questions are often difficult to answer, but the United States Department of Agriculture has researched such matters thoroughly and offers guidelines.

The first consideration is where the storage has taken place. Shelf products that have been stored above the stove, under the sink, in a damp garage or basement or any other place exposed to high or low temperature extremes are at risk for botulinum toxin. It’s best to store canned goods in a cool, dry place.

Furthermore, high acid foods such as tomatoes and other fruit keep their best quality up to 18 months, while low acid foods such as meat and vegetables last two to five years. Home canned foods should be used within one year.

The good news is that most commercially canned foods stored in a dry, cool place are safe indefinitely, although the nutritional value and taste may wane.

Even so, be on the lookout for an extremely rare toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum. Canned goods with “botulism” usually have warnings: leaking, bulging or badly dented cans; cracked jars or jars with loose or bulging lids; canned good with a foul odor; or any container that spurts liquid when opened. Even small amounts of botulinum toxin can be deadly.

Can linings might be discolored or corroded when they are filled with high-acid foods such as pineapple, but as long the can is in good shape, the contents should be safe to eat, according to the USDA. The taste texture and nutritional value of the food can diminish over time.

What about the old frozen food items in your freezer?

There is some good news here from the USDA. Food frozen at zero degrees will always be safe – but the quality can decrease over time.

To prolong the life of the frozen food, the USDA recommends you freeze items as soon as you get home from the store rather than keeping them in the refrigerator for a while, then freezing it toward the end of its lifespan. Also, it’s perfectly OK to freeze items in their store packaging, but wrapping food items in a plastic wrap or a zip-close bag will help protect its quality and prevent freezer burn. Freezer burn, which occurs when food comes in contact with air, will make the food dry in some spots. Food that is heavily freezer burned should probably be thrown away as it won’t taste good.


Ron Bennett is a recently retired university journalism professor at Brigham Young University-Idaho, where he taught journalistic writing, editing and mass media classes. He received the Distinguished Faculty award at BYU-I in 2012, and he was honored by the College Media Advisers Association in 2002 with the Distinguished Newspaper Adviser's Award. Prior to entering education, he was a professional journalist at several newspapers, including the Gazette-Journal in Reno, Nevada.

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