When’s the last time you used canned food to prepare a meal? For most of us, it’s probably a daily occurrence. Canned foods are convenient, portable, quick and have a long shelf life. They are also nutritionally similar with fresh and frozen foods.
Since February is National Canned Food Month (were you aware that we celebrated canned food?), here are some tips on purchasing, storing and using canned foods.
When purchasing canned foods, avoid rusted, dented, scratched or bulging cans and always check the freshness dates. There are different types of dates that you may see. “Sell by” tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires to have enough time to use it at best quality. “Best if used by” is recommended for best flavor or quality. It’s not a purchase or safety date. “Use by” is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality and has been determined by the manufacturer. “Closed or coded” are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer to rotate the stock as well as locate products in the event of a recall.
Be sure to read the Nutrition Facts Label to find foods with the most nutrition for your money. You can compare fat, calories, fiber, sodium and sugar found in different products. The label also provides information on the serving size and how many servings are in an item. Look for lower sodium or no salt added versions of canned foods if sodium is a concern. I have found that the sodium amounts will differ by brands, sometimes significantly. You might be surprised at the difference when you compare two or three different brands.
Canned foods need to be stored in clean, cool, dark and dry spaces. Don’t put them above the stove, under the sink, in the garage, or any place exposed to high or low temperature extremes. The optimal temperature range is 50-70 degrees F. Temperatures over 100 degrees F may cause canned food to deteriorate and lose quality. Freezing temperatures can cause changes in food textures and lead to rust, bursting cans and broken seals that may let in harmful bacteria.
Have you ever found items in your pantry that expired a few years ago? It’s easier than you think…things get shoved to the back and are overlooked. I recently found a can of evaporated milk that had “use by” date of June 2011. I had no clue it was there! To keep food from spoiling, use the first in, first out rule as your rotation system. This will help you use older canned and dried food items before using recently purchased items. Write the date of purchase on food items to help maintain a rotation. Always place newly purchased items at the back so that you’ll use your current supply first.
Canned fruits and veggies are always in season and packed at the peak of freshness. By keeping canned tomatoes, beans, fruits and veggies on hand, you can quickly create meals or boost the nutrition of recipes. Try adding canned black beans, chick peas, Mandarin oranges, beets or other colorful fruits and veggies to your next salad. Canned soup, broth, pasta and chili can serve up meals with veggies, grains and protein.
Food safety tips and time saving recipes and meals can be found at http://food.unl.edu/web/fnh/february#cannedfood.
Authored by or Adapted from Lisa Franzen-Castle, PhD, RD, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Nutrition Specialist. Healthy Bites Newsletter, /web/fnh/healthy-bites, July 2013.
Carrie T. Brazeal is the County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972.424.1460, Ext. 4233.