|Script: Safety of Canned Foods
Welcome to USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service Food Safety at home
podcast series. These podcasts were designed with you in mind - the consumer -
who purchases and prepares meat, poultry and processed meat, egg products for your family
Each episode will bring you a different food safety topic ranging from safe storage,
handling, and preparation of meat, poultry and processed egg products to the importance
of keeping foods safe during a power outage.
So sit back, turn up the volume and listen in.
Welcome to “Food Safety at Home.” This is Kathy Bernard with the Food Safety and Inspection
Service. I’m your host for this segment. With me today is Archie Magoulas, technical
information specialist from FSIS’ Food Safety Education Staff. Archie and I will discuss
the safety of commercially canned foods.
Hello, Archie, welcome to the show.
Thank you Kathy, I’m pleased to be here.
Archie, what exactly is “canning” and how does it work?
Canning provides a way to store foods for extremely long periods of time. First, food
is washed and prepared before packing it in tin-coated steel cans or glass jars. To
prevent food spoilage and kill any pathogenic organisms, the container is then subjected
to high heat - at least 250° F - for a specific length of time depending on the food
As the food cools, a vacuum seal is formed that prevents any new bacteria from getting
in. Since the food in the container is commercially sterile, it doesn’t spoil. Once
the container is opened, however, bacteria can enter and begin growing in the food,
so any unused portions must be refrigerated within 2 hours.
USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline and FSIS’ virtual representative, Ask Karen often receive
questions about the safety of canned foods that have been stored in our kitchen cupboards,
basements and so on. How should canned goods be stored to ensure they’re safe?
First, remember to always store canned foods and other shelf-stable products in a cool,
dry place. Never put them above the stove, under the sink, in a damp garage or basement,
or any place exposed to high or low temperature extremes.
What do you mean by “high” or “low” temperature extremes?
You don’t want them to be subjected to very high temperatures or very cold temperatures---
both can affect the integrity of the can or jar, negatively.
Assuming we store them in a cool and dry place, what is the recommended time to keep
Commercially prepared canned foods, whether meat
and poultry or non-meat types -- such as canned vegetables and fruit - are classified
in two general categories: high-acid and low-acid foods. High-acid foods, such as tomatoes
and other fruit, can be stored up to 18 months. Low-acid foods, such as meat and vegetables,
can be kept 2 to 5 years.
Is there any danger associated with commercially prepared canned foods?
While extremely rare, a toxin produced by Clostridium
botulinum is the worst danger in canned foods. NEVER USE food from containers that
show signs of botulism: leaking, bulging, rusting, or badly dented cans; cracked jars;
jars with loose or bulging lids; canned food with a foul odor; or any container that
spurts liquid when opening. DO NOT TASTE THIS FOOD! Even the tiniest amount of
botulinum toxin can be deadly.
Another question we often get on the Hotline is “What Do Can Codes Mean?
Cans must have a packing code to enable tracking of
the product in interstate commerce. This enables
manufacturers to rotate their stock as well as to locate their
products in the event of a recall.
These codes, which appear as a series of letters and/or
numbers, might refer to the date or time of manufacture. They aren't meant for the consumer
to interpret as "use-by" dates. There is no source which tells how to translate the
codes into dates because each manufacturer determines its own coding system.
Cans may also have "open" or calendar dates. Usually these are "best if used by" dates
for peak quality.
You can learn more about the safety of commercially canned foods by visiting the FSIS
Web site at www.fsis.usda.gov. Or visit us online
for assistance from our virtual representative “Ask Karen” at A-s-k-k-a-r-e-n.gov.
Consumers may also call our toll-free USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline.
That’s it for this week. We’ve been talking to Archie Magoulas from FSIS’ Food Safety
Education Staff. Thank you so much, Archie, for your helpful guidance on the safe handling
and storage of commercially canned foods. I’m Kathy Bernard and I’d like to thank you
for joining us for this episode of “Food Safety at Home.” And remember, “Be Food Safe.”
Well, that's all for this time. Thanks for joining us today for another episode
of food safety at home!
For answers to your food safety questions call USDA's toll-free Meat and Poultry Hotline
at 1-888-MPHotline. That's 1-888-674-6854.
You can also get answers to food safety questions online from our virtual representative
"Ask Karen" at askkaren.gov .
Let us know what you think of this podcast by sending your comments to
Thanks for tuning in.
June 10, 2009