What Happens To Home-Canned Foods As They Age

Home canning is something that is widely accessible to many kitchens and although it fell out of practice for a while, it's made a comeback in recent years. This technique can be used to turn ripe strawberries into jars of homemade jam or transform an abundance of garden-grown produce into pickles, relish, and salsa. Although it's popular, some may be hesitant to learn how to preserve their own food due to concerns about safety. While there may be a learning curve when it comes to using this method, one top safety concern is often how long you can keep home-canned foods.

Most websites and books recommend eating your preserved items within a year of canning and the National Center for Home Food Preservation states that home-canned foods kept in a dry, cool space will retain their quality for one year. However, as long as storage conditions are met, the organization's guideline pertains to the food's ideal quality and nutritional value — not food safety. If you do a little digging, you may realize that the true shelf life extends beyond 12 months, but how does older home-canned food look and taste?

Color and texture quality can fade over time

As the home canning product company Mrs. Wages explains, when it comes to food safety the shelf life is around two to five years, depending on what type of food has been stored. But just because it's safe to eat canned food after a year, it doesn't mean that you'll always want to. As the preserved food ages, even when kept in an ideal environment away from heat, dampness, and direct light, the quality naturally degrades over time. This means that as it ages, a jar of fruit preserves may oxidize and lose some of its vibrant colors. 

Likewise, those pickles may not be too crisp after a couple of years, but despite the degraded texture or color of older home-canned foods, they're likely still safe to eat. That is, as long as the lid has remained intact and there aren't any signs of bulging lids or rust and the food is free of mold or other signs of spoilage. Although some preserved items can degrade faster than commercially contained products, remember the reason you likely started canning was the convenience of having pantry shelves lined with foods you've put away yourself. Now you'll just know when to enjoy them at their peak.