|If your can looks like this, do NOT open it.|
On our lunches at work, we discuss random things, depending on who's in the room. One of the things discussed is food and food safety, and that's when I pipe up.
Many people wonder how long to keep canned goods before they go bad. Have you ever wondered this? And before I knew what I know now, I always assumed that the heat treatment used for canning was enough to sterilize the product inside. But now I know that not every single bacteria is killed. That's why cans bulge (see photo above). There are slow-growing bacteria that can have a slow feast and ruin your food. And if you open the can when it's in the bulged state, the bacteria is going to spray all over your kitchen. Gross!
This can of fruit has been on my shelf for who knows how long. If I were very organized, I would mark the date of purchase on the top of the can. Why? Because, according to the FDA's Food Safety site, canned goods won't last forever, and the safe storage time for fruit is 12 to 18 months (see chart for other "shelf stable" foods -- scroll to the very bottom). After that time, the food will start to deteriorate. The other can of unbulged fruit (same label) we opened had obvious corrosion inside the can, and the fruit cocktail tasted like metal. Bye-bye to that can, too.
So the lesson here? Don't stock up on too many canned fruit and vegetables, unless you know you can use them within a year and a half. And consider marking the date of purchase on the top so you can keep your stock rotated with the oldest in the front, so you know which cans to use first.