As home canners, we are proud of what we preserve. A pantry full of home canned goods makes us feel as though we have done our job by providing for our family. Rows of jams, pickles, tomatoes, salsas, sauces, chutneys sparkle on the shelves, enticing us to open them up for special dinners. We carefully select firm, ripe produce. Check out jars for any nicks or chips. And we check the processing charts to make sure that regardless of water bath or pressure canning, items are preserved for the correct length of time given our elevation.
But as we thumb through cook books for the perfect recipe or do our research for proper techniques, how much information is out there regarding when it is time to toss our canned goods? Even in the most organization kitchen, sometimes a jar gets pushed to the back where it is forgotten. It doesn’t matter if you have a modern kitchen with state of the art appliances or in a humble homestead kitchen or somewhere in between… some preserved goods can fall through the cracks and we end up finding them when they are well past their prime.
One document that is available online is by the National Center for Home Food Preservation and is listed under their Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section. This document goes on to say, “…it is recommended that all home-canned foods be used within a year”. That is pretty sound advice although some of us may have a few items that are a little older… pushing three years or perhaps even five. NOTE: this is does not mean that you cannot eat canned goods that are older than one year old. Though the flavor and nutritional value will be diminished compared to just-canned food.
There are some common sense clues when it comes to tossing out canned goods. The following list gives you an overview of what to keep in mind.
Top 12 Reasons to Toss Canned Goods
- a newly opened jar has mold on the inside
- a newly opened jar has an odd aroma
- a jar spurts contents when opened
- the seal of the jar is broken and no longer airtight
- there is a crack in the jar
- the lid is bulged
- the lid is rusty
- the jar is leaking
- the contents have shriveled into a small mass at the bottom of the jar
- the contents of a jar look abnormal
- if you suspect the contents are contaminated with the botulinum toxin
- if the contents of the jar are dried and there should be a liquid or sauce in the jar
Please, do not taste the contents of a jar if you are uncertain if they are safe to eat. This could unnecessarily put your health at risk.
While most online resources agree on consuming canned goods within a year of when they were made, there is no hard and fast rule for how old canned goods must be before they are thrown out. In cases like this, remember the adage, “If in doubt, toss it out”.
As a home canner, I confess to having a few jars of canned goods that I missed on the bottom shelf. But even though I am confident in my canning, the very old canned contents will be disposed of rather than eaten.
Enjoy your canned goods in a timely fashion. With all the work that you put into canning, you should enjoy them on your table. Before you open a jar, refer to the list of reasons to toss out canned goods. Your health is far more important than eating something suspicious looking.