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Cracking Open Canned Food Myths

Canned foods, whether home-canned or commercially canned and from the grocery store, often have a terrible reputation for being unhealthy or tasting bland. “Canned fruit and vegetables are simply another way to get nutrients the body needs. Plus, they help save money with a longer shelf life compared to fresh,” Lisa Peterson, Nutrition and Wellness Educator with University of Illinois Extension explains. This week let’s explore and de-bunk common myths about canned produce.

Myth: The sell-by or use-by date on the can means after that date, the food is not safe to eat. The dates on canned foods can be confusing and may lead to throwing out food that is still safe to eat. Canned food purchased at the grocery store is safe indefinitely, as long as that can isn’t bulging, rusted, or deeply dented, especially near the seal of the can. “The main concern with canned food is quality over time. If the can is bulging, rusted, or deeply dented, it’s best to toss it out as this could be a sign of harmful bacteria growing,” Peterson explains. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends low acid canned foods such as soups, stews, carrots, pasta, meat, and gravy are kept for the best quality between 2 to 5 years from the date of purchase. High acid canned foods like juices, fruit, pickles, or sauerkraut are kept for one year for best quality. Home-canned foods are best saved for up to a year for the best quality.

Myth: Canned fruits and vegetables are not as healthy as fresh. Once food is harvested, it immediately starts to break down. Fruits and vegetables used for canned foods are picked at peak freshness and processed within hours. Minerals, fat-soluble vitamins, carbohydrates, protein, and fat do not significantly change in the canning process. Some vitamins, such as vitamins B and C, are affected by high heat and may be reduced, although nutrients and antioxidants like lycopene and beta carotene become more available. “From a nutritional standpoint, look for fruit canned in 100% juice, water, or its own juice, and vegetables with no salt added to cut back on added sugar and sodium,” Peterson suggests. Studies show the overall nutrient content between fresh, frozen, and canned foods are similar, so eating a variety of the three is a healthy choice.

Myth: Storing opened canned food in the refrigerator will cause lead to leak into my food. The Food and Drug Administration prohibits the use of lead in all canned foods, including foods that are imported. Commercially canned foods are stored in cans made from sheet steel and sometimes a coating of tin. Storing an open can in the refrigerator is safe but may affect flavor and quality, so it is suggested to move the food to a glass or plastic storage container.

Myth: When home canning tomatoes, as long as the tomatoes are pressure canned, no acid is needed. Whether pressure or boiling water bath canning tomatoes, an acid is necessary. Harmful bacteria can still survive if the tomatoes are not acidified regardless of the process. Add 1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice, ¼ teaspoon citric acid, or 2 tablespoons vinegar per pint jar, or 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice, ½ teaspoon citric acid, or 4 tablespoons vinegar per quart jar. Always use recipes from a trusted source where the recipes have been tested for safety. Contact the local Extension office for canning recipes or questions.


Black Bean and Corn Chili

Makes 6 servings

2-14.5 oz. cans black beans, low sodium, drained and rinsed

1-16 oz. jar salsa or picante sauce

1-8 oz. can tomato sauce

1-8 oz. can corn, low sodium, drained and rinsed

½ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon chili powder

½ cup low-fat cheddar cheese, shredded

  1.  Wash hands with soap and water. 
  2. In a large saucepan or skillet, combine beans, salsa, tomato sauce, corn, cumin, and chili powder.
  3. Bring to a boil and reduce heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Serve chili in bowls and top with cheese.

Nutrition Facts per serving: 130 calories, 9 g. protein, 1.5 g. total fat, 23 g. carbohydrates, 5 g. dietary fiber, 800 mg sodium

Recipe provided by Illinois Nutrition Education Program. Find more at


Questions about food safety, nutrition, food preservation, or looking for recipes? Contact the local University of Illinois Extension office.

Source: Lisa Peterson, Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness