The Surprising Risks of Eating Canned Food That’s Been Stored Outside

Canned foods are a stable and convenient way to store various foods for an extended period. Whether buying commercially canned foods or canning foods yourself, they are a great way to keep foods for long-term storage and should be an essential item in any prepper’s pantry. But can you store canned foods just anywhere, or are there certain places that work better than others?

You can store canned foods outside as long as you ensure they are protected from extreme heat and cold and stored in a dark, dry location. Foods stored in this manner can be kept outside and safe to eat until their best-by date.

The rest of this article will explain a few topics related to this question in great detail, including some background about canned foods and how to choose safe ones. It will also cover how to store them properly and give tips for keeping canned food outside.

Choosing Safe Canned Foods

Canned foods are a staple in any pantry and have been an integral method of food storage since the 1790s. Napoleon Bonaparte offered a massive reward to anyone to develop a long-term strategy for storing food.

A chef, Nicholas Appert, developed a method of cooking meats, putting them in jars, and submerging them in boiling water to form a tight seal on those jars. It was this method that ultimately won the prize.

While we’ve come up with many other ways to preserve food, canning is a significant player in food preservation. While we have become more effective at storing foods through canning, the method hasn’t changed much.

Testament to this is how often we find canned foods from 100 years ago that are still intact! One of the key reasons why some canned foods have remained preserved is that the containers themselves have remained undamaged.

When choosing canned foods for long-term storage, it is crucial to only select cans with no dents or signs of damage. Over time, these can lead to rust, spoiling the food inside. Ensure you’re checking the best-by dates on the cans and choosing the ones with the most extended hold date. Be aware of cans or jars that are dirty or dusty or show any signs of wear. When selecting foods in jars, ensure the lids are flush and not bulging.

Canned food outside

Safe Canned Food Storage Conditions

As mentioned earlier, canned food is preserved using heat. However, once canned food is preserved, heat is canned food’s worst enemy. According to the University of Michigan Extension, canned foods spoil if stored over 100 °F (37.78 °C).

This is because the seals on jars and the cans have been made under heat. Reintroducing heat to these seals can break their seal. This allows oxygen to enter the container, resulting in bacterial and mold growth, which will result in the food inside spoiling.

You will also need to protect canned food from freezing as well. The water inside cans and jars can expand and break the container, introducing the food inside to oxygen, resulting in spoilage from mold and bacterial growth. With this in mind, the ideal temperature for canned foods is around 75 °F (23.89 °C).

Another enemy of canned foods is moisture. For metal cans and the metal lids on jars, water creates rust. These cans and jar caps can again lose their seal with enough rust, producing oxygen exposure and spoilage.

Finally, UV light can be an enemy to canned foods, especially those stored in jars. Most jars will allow some measure of UV light to pass through, which, even if the temperatures don’t get above 100 °F (37.78 °C), can result in the food inside breaking down from the UV rays. If you must store something in the sunlight, purchase amber-tinted mason jars for at-home canning or cover the outside of the jars with dark paper.

Creating Safe Canned Food Storage Solutions

It is easy to create storage solutions outdoors for canned food if you keep the enemies of canned food in mind. This means avoiding extreme temperatures and keeping your food in the dark, dry place.

An easy option for outdoor food storage is keeping your food underground. According to Discover Magazine, many ancient people relied on underground food storage in caves and pits. You can follow suit by digging out a cellar and lining it with moisture-proofing. This will mitigate the effects of underground moisture, and the underground chamber will provide a dark, cool space.

If you’re not about to dig a hole cellar, you can dig smaller holes as long as you go below the frost line. If you don’t know your area’s frost line, you can look it up here. When you reach the appropriate depth, you can place an old ice chest or other insulated containers into the hole and pack it with canned food. Then, you can cover it back up or create an easy access hole.

If digging a hole isn’t an option, you can always store your food above ground. Ensure it is out of reach from scavengers like bears or raccoons and is covered, away from the elements. This could mean storing the food in parts of your garage or shed.

You could even build a structure specifically for food storage. If this is your route, you can take steps to allow for more insulation or even install cooling in the summer. If you cannot heat or cool your space and extreme temperatures are an issue, you might reconsider the underground option.


Canned foods can be stored outside as long as they are protected from extreme heat and cold and kept in a dry, dark location. When choosing canned foods for long-term storage, it is essential to select undamaged cans with the longest best-by date and to avoid dirty or dusty cans or jars with bulging lids.

Canned foods should be stored at a temperature of around 75°F and kept away from moisture and UV light to prevent spoilage. Various outdoor storage solutions are available, such as underground storage or a cold room, as long as they meet the necessary conditions for preserving canned foods. Overall, canned foods are a convenient and stable way to store food for an extended period. Still, it is essential to keep them properly to maintain their safety and quality.

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