How long do preserves keep?

I`m really excited that we`ve received a tonne of great questions lately – it makes writing at 5am a whole lot easier when you can start the day with a topic chosen!

Rachelle asked the question above and it`s a great one – it`s also one that`s difficult to answer precisely.  There are so many variables to storage and keeping them relatively cool and dark is a key here (ours are on a shelf in the kitchen which does not allow them a piece of sunlight; I`d adore a cellar one day).  I am no scientist and like many who write on the topic of preserving, tend to hedge on the side of safety when answering such questions.

I have two rules with safety:

  • When in doubt, throw it out
  • Ask the pros

The National Center for Home Food Preservation lists several documents which detail shelf  life.  By clicking through you will find:

thankfully they also provide an overview of storage and keys to spotting spoilage.

I, like many canners, will keep food past the one-year mark.  Many of my preserves are planned to last 18-24 months so that I only make certain batches every second year and have a greater variety of preserves in my larder.

I can`t scientifically vouch for it`s safety and would recommend you do your own research before deciding for yourself if this works for you remembering the rules above.  I wouldn`t eat our food if I felt it wasn`t safe – but me `feeling`safe is not a firm place for someone else to make a decision that could affect the health of their friends and family.  I also keep many other foods past the dates in these lists (i.e. popcorn, ketchup and even milk).

I thought I`d add a poll below – I am hoping people will vote and share it around so we can see what other are doing.  It doesn`t prove safety (just look at driving for proof that many do things less than safe while feeling protected) but it could he interesting to see what others are thinking.  Note the question isn`t asking how long you presently store your preserves as most will finish eating an entire batch before passing their comfort level.  Also feel free to add comments explaining your approach – would love to hear it.

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  1. Our family was given venison,(lots of it) I froze most of it in food saver bags. but I would like to can some of it also,any ideas?

    • Hi Dawn,

      Venison is ideal for jerky and can be pressure canned according to the US Government. The Canadian Government says no meat can be canned which would be a shock to people in the north and east who rely on it to eat.

      we are going to do some meating canning this winter and will share it here. If you need info now, google the NATIONAL CENTER FOR HOME FOOD PRESERVATION and you’ll find they have everything you need to pressure can meat 🙂 Good luck, let us know how it goes! J

  2. Joel,
    Thank you for answering my question, I did look up the information. I preserved 12 pints of Venison chunks (salt, onion power, garlic powder) and 12 pints of boneless skinless chicken. I used the pints because that is what I had on hand, and it is only my husband and I at home now. Thank you again for the help.

    P.S. I canned 8 pints of Apple Pie filling also.

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  6. The idea that canned food only lasts one year does not make a great deal of sense to me. Especially since we use non-reactive glass jars (as opposed to acidic items in metal cans á la the supermarket). As long as you follow appropriate canning protocols, the seal is still good, and the food looks and smells okay I am comfortable eating items I canned that are over a year old. I have some over two years old and do not worry about consuming them.

    Botulism is the main concern that cannot be easily detected through visual or olfaction checks and that is not going to magically appear after one year – if canning guidelines were not followed botulism spores will produce the potentially lethal toxin in under a week.

    Yes, your canned goods may lose some color after long storage, especially lower sugar items, but they are still safe to eat.

  7. My ex-grandmother-in-law has fruit soup that she canned many, many years before. It didn’t start out with alcohol, but was my first time ever getting drunk. When she moved out of state she left the last few jars with us and we finished them up over the next few years.

    I personally feel the guidelines exist so the authorities don’t get sued. I check the lid, look at the contents, smell the contents and then do a small taste. If at any point something raises my suspicions, I toss it out.

    • Hi Ken and Joanne,

      Most health regulators say 2 years or under though I know people who have eaten 20+ year pickles. They don’t improve over that time and likely will have lost any nutritional value. But I don’t know enough about your specific jar of pickles to know whether they are good/safe to eat or not (and not a food scientist to know a lot more) unfortunately.

  8. I did plums down in glass sealer jars and as long as the seal is still good I eat them. They are over 5 years old