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Friday, May 1, 2020

Did You Overbuy a Bunch of Food Items? Freezing Commercially-Canned Food

So, you stocked your pantry with commercially-canned foods, and now, you can't use them all before their expiration dates. Maybe you were preparing for a situation where you would need more easy to prepare foods, or perhaps you found an awesome sale on canned tuna. The result is the same, if you buy more canned food than you can use before the expiration date, you'll need to do something to salvage all of that usable food. Besides having a canned-food orgy, there is a way to save it all, at least for another few months. You can extend a canned food's safe-to-eat-by date by several months by freezing it. There are a few basic rules to follow for safety:

  1. open the can and transfer the product to a freezer-safe container or bag. Do not freeze food in the can.
  2. drain products that are packed in water, juice, or oil before freezing. This liquid can be frozen and saved, too, of you think you'll have use for it later. However, there are exceptions to the draining rule. I find that our family likes the texture of canned tomatoes frozen in their juice.
  3. canned meals, such as soups, stews, and pasta dishes in sauce, are best kept in their liquids.
  4. mark frozen meat products with a clear expiration date.
  5. do this BEFORE the printed expiration date on the can.
  6. for the most part, the suggested time limit for freezing concerns best quality and not safety.

canned meat, such as tuna, chicken, ham     before expiration date, open can, drain, place in freezer bag, squeeze out excess air and freeze for up to 3 months. Best practice -- use a Sharpie to write "expiration date: XX/XX/XXXX (date that is 3 months into the future from point of freezing)."

canned vegetables     according to, unopened canned vegetables, when properly stored, can safely be consumed up to 1 to 2 years beyond the expiration date printed on the can. However, if you'd like to freeze the canned veggies, open can, drain, place in freezer bag, squeeze out excess air, and freeze for up to 2 months.

canned olives     canned olives freeze quite well. Simply drain, pat dry with a paper towels, pack in freezer bag, squeeze out excess air, and freeze for up to 6 months.

canned fruit     drain the juice and pour into a freezer-safe container and freeze, Place drained fruit in freezer bag, squeeze out excess air, freeze for up to 2 months. The juice and fruit can be thawed and recombined or the juice can be used separately for another purpose. (We like to save canned pineapple juice to add to a pitcher of orange juice or use in marinades.)

canned fruit sauces, such as applesauce     transfer to an airtight container and freeze for up to 2 months.

canned milk     canned milk can be frozen, but the consistency will change somewhat when frozen. Milk solids tend to separate from the liquids in freezing. And for some, this makes the thawed product less appealing. However, frozen/thawed canned milk still works great in cooking, such as for making soups and sauces, baking, etc. Best practice -- for canned evaporated milk, open the can and pour into ice cube trays. Freeze solid then transfer the frozen milk cubes to a freezer bag. Freezing milk in small portions makes it easy to grab just how much you need for a particular recipe without thawing too much.

For sweetened condensed milk, freeze in small containers or freezer bags and not in ice cube trays. The high sugar content in sweetened condensed milk prevents the cubes from freezing solid.

Both types of canned milk will keep, frozen, for up to 3 months.

canned pasta meals, soups, and stews     empty contents of cans into freezer bags or airtight freezer containers. Freeze and use within 2 months, for best quality.

jarred or canned sauces     for tomato-based pasta sauce, transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze up to 3 months.

Gravy and other opaque/thickened sauces tend to separate when frozen. However, it can be frozen and remedied once thawed. Transfer contents of can or jar to a freezer container and freeze for up to 3 months. Once thawed, reheat and whisk vigorously, adding some liquid as needed.

Canned jellied cranberry sauce separates and becomes watery once frozen and thawed. It is still safe but you may need to heat it to melting, then cool to recombine. To freeze, transfer to freezer container and keep frozen up to 3 months.

For myself . . . A couple of times per year, I check expiration dates on my canned foods. When I find something nearing its expiry, I make a choice to use it right away or go ahead and freeze the contents. It's surprising how suddenly a bunch of cans of pumpkin about to expire can sneak up on me.

In addition, I frequently find myself with a half-can of something leftover, which I will freeze to use another time.


  1. Interesting, I never thought of this. I am generally comfortable using canned goods that have passed their "best by" date, as long as the can is in good condition. I found some canned salmon in my pantry with the best by date of mid 2019 (so, close to one year ago). I made salmon cakes and we have been eating them with no ill effects. I have home canned jam from four years ago that we are still eating too (the recommendation is to eat it within 12 to 18 months). Clearly, I'm not a stickler for expiration dates! :)

    - Tina

    1. Hi Tina,
      as noted above, many official-sounding sites say that these expiration dates are for quality and not necessarily safety.

      For myself, I'd feel uncomfortable eating a meat passed expiry, but would be okay with veggies that I heat thoroughly. And I think because of the sugar/acid in fruit, I'd be okay eating that beyond expiry. I definitely freeze unused portions of opened canned veggies and fruit, as we buy the #10 cans of so many canned things. And we eat them long, long after the suggested months for best quality.

      I currently have a bunch of canned chicken and tuna. As they near their expiry, I will freeze the contents. Having had food poisoning a couple of times before, I'm not eager to go down that path again.

  2. Yes, it's really a personal decision, depending on what you are comfortable with. I've had food poisoning before as well, so I definitely understand where you are coming from.
    Have a nice weekend!
    - Tina

  3. While I do freeze unused portions of cans, I have never thought of opening a can and freezing it, but it makes sense. I don't worry too much about expiration dates on cans (except meat), but my son does so he's pretty good about using what is getting old.


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