Nutritious, inexpensive and convenient, canned food is an excellent way to store and enjoy fruit, vegetables, protein and even entire ready-made meals. But how long can cans really last? How does the canning process affect nutrition? And what does champagne have to do with any of it? Keep reading for the answers to these questions, plus tips and tricks to extend the shelf life of your favorite canned foods.
A Champagne Campaign
The canned foods we know today can trace their ancestry way back to France in the early 1800s. During the early years of the Napoleonic Wars, the French government offered a reward of nearly 12,000 francs to anyone who could invent a way to preserve large amounts of food for their armies.
Enter Nicolas Appert, a French chef and brewer who discovered that food cooked inside of a glass jar would not spoil unless the seal was broken and the contents leaked. This led to Appert experimenting with the glass containers he had handy—champagne bottles—until he developed a method for sealing food tightly in other glass jars and containers. This invention led the way to tin canning in 1810, and, after over 40 years of struggle, the tin can opener was finally invented in 1855 much to the relief of chefs, soldiers and homemakers everywhere.
Shelf Life & Storage
Canned foods have the highest shelf life when stored properly. Keep your canned goods and non-perishables in dry, sturdy cabinets and shelves—not over the oven, under the sink, or anywhere else they could get damaged or wet. Fruits and vegetables generally have a shelf life of 1-2 years, meat and poultry 2-5, and high-acid foods like tomatoes and citrus fruits can last up to 18 months if stored correctly. There were even cans of food found in the wreck of the Bertrand—a steamboat that sank in the Missouri River in 1865—that were opened and deemed safe to eat by the National Food Processors Association more than 100 years later!
● Saves Money: If you’re wondering how to save money on groceries, buying canned foods in bulk—especially when on sale—is an excellent way to save on items you know you will enjoy in the next few months to a year.
● Easy to Cook & Eat: Canned foods are generally quick and simple to cook, since you can purchase pre-cut, pre-washed, pre-portioned items that can easily be integrated into recipes and every day cooking.
● Retains Nutritional Value: It may seem unlikely, but canned foods retain much of their nutrition since they are often picked when they are perfectly ripe and then canned near where they are grown. In other cases, canned foods can be more nutritious than fresh produce, since nutritional value can be lost through long transport and shelf times. Many foods are concentrated during the canning process, like pumpkin for example, so it contains much more Vitamin A than fresh.
● Eco-friendly: Canned foods are a more eco-friendly option for food storage since the portion sizes cut down on waste and cans can be reused or recycled. The household would have less food waste from canned items with no chopping or peeling necessary.
● BPA: Some cans are lined with BPA (Bisphenol A), an industrial chemical that can be harmful if a large amount is consumed. BPA is found in the highest amounts in canned tomatoes because of their acidity, but unless you’re nursing or pregnant, it’s unlikely to affect the average person.
● Slightly Higher Sodium Levels: Many canned foods contain more sodium than fresh or frozen foods, but since canned food comes with nutrition labels, finding low-sodium and no-sodium options are often available and easy to discover.
● Take up Space: Storing cans for a long time can collect dust and take up amble storage space that could be used for other things.