Ask the Goats: Elderly peaches

Ask the Goats is a weekly feature in which we answer your food-preservation questions. It usually appears on Mondays, but, being the day after Labor Day, we’re considering today Monday-ish. Send us your questions at dorisandjilly@gmail.com.

Q. We have canned peaches and jam that have been in our attic for over 20 years. The seals are still intact. Is it safe to eat?—Henry.

A. This is an easy one: No.

The USDA recommends that you keep your home canned goods for no longer than 1 year. Now, in truth, many home canners keep their canned goods for longer than that, and, depending on your product, there may be some wiggle room. Even so, there comes a point where common sense prevails. I’m guessing that these items are probably quite gray and soft. Aside from the question of whether they might be “safe,” ask yourself, “Is this something I would want to eat?” Canning does not have magical powers to stop the passage of time. Throw those suckers out, and while you’re at it, toss everything older than 2 years.  It’s time to sterilize your jars and start fresh.

And remember, your canned goods will last longer if you store them someplace cool and dark, like a basement. Attics are not generally recommended because they suffer from dramatic temperature fluctuations.

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1 comment to Ask the Goats: Elderly Peaches

  • We get this question surprisingly frequently on the Master Food Preserver hotline in Eugene, Oregon. We recommend, just like you do, that they look at the product and think of the quality issues. If it looks off-color or odd, or any damage at all to the lids exists, then toss it. If it was stored in an unheated attic, chances are it’s not good. Our Extension agent once took a jet-black, oxidized jar of tomatoes that was ~50 years old. She took it over to the lab and had it analyzed. Edible! Now, would you want to eat them? No. But it isn’t a safety issue, as you state.

    But if canned foods can last longer than 2 years, despite what the USDA says, I’m not sure I’d agree that *everything* older than 2 years should go. I say that if it still looks good and the lids are intact, it’s ok to keep canned foods, as long as you understand that you may suffer some quality loss. I can’t help thinking about the folks for whom this food is still very much needed, even after 2 years.

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