Stability of Processed Foods

Shelf Stable Foods

Foods that are processed – those treated by heat or a combination of other treatments which will destroy dangerous microorganisms – are shelf stable. These products, which include canned foods, bottled juices and other products that do not require refrigeration until opened, have a shelf life which is evaluated in terms of the quality of the product. These items are often referred to as non-perishable for these reasons. Canned foods can last for two years or longer, because shelf stable foods experience a very slow rate of organic change. After two years however, the product may lose taste and color.

Product Dating

The dating of shelf stable foods is done on a voluntary basis for all food products except infant formula. Consumers will however, see products marked with dating terms such as “best before/best-if-used-by”, “sell by”, and “use by”.

The “best-if-used-by” date is the date recommended for best flavor and quality of a product, it is not safety date. A “sell by” or “expiration” or “use by” date tells a consumer how long a store should display the product for sale. Purchase products before the “sell by” or “use by” date.

A shelf stable product can be safely used after the “sell by” date. Products displaying a “use by” date, although still safe, may not be of acceptable quality after the “use by” date.

Additionally, consumers should note that products in slightly dented cans can be consumed as long as there are no leaks and the product appears wholesome. Do not consume products from severely dented, leaking, or swollen cans or jars.

Remember, processed foods that are shelf stable can be safely consumed for two years or longer. Consumers are encouraged to contact the retailer or manufacturer with further questions.