Canned foods are one of the safest sources of preserved food. The food is rendered sterile through the heating process and then stored in a vacuum, so no microbial activity is breaking down the food. Most canned foods do not have expiration dates, but rather "best if used by" dates and can be kept almost indefinitely.
Take the time to look over the cans to check for any bulges or leaks. Bulges usually mean that the food has been spoiling and gases are being given off by the decomposition process. Leaks are rare, but can happen if the can was pierced. Throw out any cans in either of these categories.
Store any canned goods in a dry and moderate environment--that is below 75 degrees. They can be used as the need arises, since they can continue to be stored without fear of the food going bad. Of course, it would be wise to use them up before using newly purchased cans.
Open old commercially canned goods and inspect for any bulges or hissing during opening--both signs of spoilage. According to the Clemson University Extension in South Carolina, "the food can be eaten straight from the can as long as the container was intact." You can cook with old canned food just as if it were freshly canned and use it in preparations like soup, stew and casseroles where a fresh texture is not expected.
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