Are commercial canned tomatoes OK to eat several years beyond the "best by" date?

Asked August 22, 2015, 9:17 AM EDT

I discovered 2 unopened cases (8 14.5 oz each) of canned organic diced tomatoes stored in my basement with a best by date of 3-30-12. The cans are not damaged and are not bulging. Are they safe to eat?

Knox County Ohio

1 Response

If the cans have been stored in a moderate temperature and are in good condition, the food should be safe to use. The quality may have deteriorated.

The reason for dating is not for safety but for quality. According to the USDA shelf-stable products can be safely used after the “sell-by” date. Although products displaying a “use-by” date are safe after that date, their quality may not be acceptable. However, any cans that are exposed to freezing and thawing should be discarded. Canned foods that are high-acid can be stored on the shelf for 12 to 18 months. Meat, poultry, fish, and most vegetables will keep 2 to 5 years provided they are stored in a cool, clean, and dry place, and the can is in good condition. Of course, cans that are dented, leaking, bulging or rusted should always be discarded. These web sites provide the above information and additional information. They are from the USDA. and To store canned food wisely, follow these guidelines:

Temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit are harmful to canned foods.
  • Store in a cool, clean, dry place where temperatures are below 85 degrees (between 50-70 degrees is good) but not freezing temperatures.
  • Rotate foods so the oldest is used first. Try not to keep canned foods more than one year.
  • Use canned meats and seafood within 12 months.
  • Use low-acid canned foods within 8-12 months.
  • Use high-acid foods within 12 to 18 months. Foods stored longer will be safe to eat if the cans show no signs of spoilage or damage but may deteriorate in color, flavor and nutritive value.
  • Canned fruit juices can be stored up to 3 years.
Let me know if you have additional questions.