Canning 101: The Shelf Life of Jam

2009 strawberry lemon jam

For a lot of you, last year was your first summer of canning. If your initial foray was anything like mine (years ago now), you probably made a whole lot of jam. So much jam, in fact, that you are still swimming in it a year later. And now a new canning season is nearly upon us. What to do about all those still-full jars?

Some of you might be feeling like you’ve got to toss all that jam. After all, the USDA says that it’s only good for a year, right? Happily, that is not the case. Jam doesn’t have some invisible expiration device built in that goes off once it’s been on the shelf for 12 months. That jar pictured above? It’s strawberry jam that I made in June of 2009. I ate it over waffles this last Sunday to delicious results. It is perfectly fine nearly two years after canning.

Here’s what you should know. The act of canning doesn’t preserve food forever. But you can often get 18 months to two years out of your higher sugar products like jams and fruit canned in syrup. As long as the seal is good and the lid seems properly concave, your product should be just fine. My personal rule of thumb is that the more sugar a canned good has, the longer its life will be. That means that those low sugar fruit butters aren’t going to last as long as those candy-like jams.

As you prepare for this canning season, it’s a good idea to take stock of what you still have left. If it’s obvious that you’re not going to be able to use up certain items in advance of the upcoming season, consider skipping that particular jam or preserve this year. Try a few new things and feel comfortable eating that 2010 strawberry jam well into 2012.

 

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55 Responses to Canning 101: The Shelf Life of Jam

  1. 1
    ecentipede says:

    this is a tough one! i *want* to make more blueberry jam this year, but i’ve still got a full pint of two different flavors. i suppose we should take this as an opportunity to branch out in flavors. after all, i didn’t make anything with pears in 2010…

  2. 2
    Kat says:

    You’re so exactly right–my husband and I were just having this very conversation: make less jam this year. It’s so satisfying to make, and easy to give, but not as practical as tomatoes (we’re out) or even dill pickles (also out). We just got a pressure canner–did you find that when you got yours, the focus shifted a little off jams and onto more savory things? I hope that happens for us.

  3. 3

    Good advice, I am eating some jam I canned in 2009 and it is just fine. I will finish it before canning season starts this year though and because I have some of the 2010 jam yet, I will try not to make too much jam this year (or I will give much of it away).

    -Brenda

  4. 4
    Monica says:

    What about other canned goods – like peach salsa? it has no sugar, but it does have vinegar, but then again it also has low acid peppers and herbs… how long should that last?

  5. 5
    Michelle says:

    This is very useful information. Makes me think of being a child and my mom decided to can a bunch of beef. We never touched a jar of the stuff for fear, even after two weeks that it had spoiled. It sat in the cupboard for 13 years until she moved. GROSS! GROSS! That was too long…

  6. 6
    Daedre says:

    That’s good advice. I’m always trying to convince my boyfriend that expiration dates are “throw-this away” dates. It just means you need to start doing a visual or sniff test before using this stuff.

  7. 7
    lae says:

    ugh, i love this blog. i discovered it about a month ago. im looking forward to my first raised bed garden this year and your blog has been so helpful in determining what i will do at the end of the season. little tips like this are what make this blog so special.
    thanks!

  8. 8
    Sandi Garcia says:

    Yay! Good info – and way good for me as I didn’t start canning until July and actually all of the early jam is long gone with Christmas and birthdays, but I do have some that will come of age towards the end of the year. Expiration dates in the stores are really sell by dates and product remains useable way beyond that time. If I have any fear at all, I feed it to my husband first (just kidding . . . well, maybe . . .)! And on a fun note — I’m in southern California and the local fruit stand just loaded up with local strawberries at a great price so I will be busy canning this weekend — I am so excited as strawberry season was long gone by the time I started canning!

  9. 9

    good stuff!! i have a few old jars too

  10. 10
    Zach says:

    A great idea is to change the labels on your jam and give unsuspecting friends/family the old stuff. They won’t be able to tell the difference, and you’ll be able to make plenty of room in your larder for new fruits and flavors!

  11. 11
    Amanda says:

    This is about the time of the year that I stop hoarding and start gorging. I start with what’s about to come back in season and work my way down the line. Right now we are going through the last of the strawberry-rhubarb jam :)

  12. 12
    Nancy Gilbert says:

    I agree on the long shelf-life of jam and other home-canned fruits. I recently ate some spiced beets that I made 3-4 years ago. My rule is to open it, smell it, look at it, and if it seems OK, taste a bit of it. I’ve been canning for over 30 years and have never had any trouble with any food. P.S. I’m Sarah’s mom!

    • 12.1
      NORBERT says:

      I had the good fortune to inherit some jars of plum jam that were made in 1986 (27 years old).
      I opened them and enjoyed them ever since.Perfectly good,no mold and I am still healthy and
      alive.

  13. 13
    Tracy says:

    This is good to know! My mum has jam in the back of her fridge that pre-dates stainless steel. I wouldn’t eat that because it probably demands rights at this point, but I will no longer fear the 2009 jam when I’m there next.

  14. 14
    Julie says:

    I love making jam every year! I love it so much I make extra to can in the small jars to give away as gifts for the holidays….Everyone loves it and I’ve never gotten a complaint! To me canning jam is a gift, even to me!

  15. 15
    Sandra Ley says:

    I don’t want to misquote anyone from the Food Network, but if I remember correctly, Alton Brown said once that jams, jellies and preserves have an almost indefinite shelf life. I have used stuff that I canned 3-4 years ago and have never had a problem. I also do the sniff and small taste test before serving.

    • 15.1
      Marisa says:

      Sandra, that’s true in that the high sugar preserves rarely go bad. However, they do start to degrade in quality after a couple of years on the shelf. The color will start to fade, the texture can get a little funky and eventually, jams and jellies particularly, will start to separate a little bit. That doesn’t make the unsafe to eat, just slightly less appealing.

  16. 16
    Molly Odell says:

    My mom and I make a lot of low sugar jams and jellies. My mom always says that storing them in the fridge will make them last longer – even before they are opened. Do you think that’s true and is it a good idea to store unopened jams in the fridge?
    Thanks!
    Molly

  17. 17

    Marisa – when I did some research for my won purpose and canning classes, I found that the seal – when the jar is properly sealed and kept in optimum storage conditions – should last for 5 years. I am not recommending anyone waits 5 years to eat their canned good, far from it! But this confirms that properly processed and stored canned food should last a bit longer than one year.

    I had a banner year for jam too last year, trying some unusual flavors including blackberry/elderberry, cape ground cherry, and chestnuts. Sure jams are good on toast, but they are also wonderful in jam tarts (tarte a la confiture for the francophones or crostata for the Italians) or as a principal ingredient in jam ice-cream. And let me tell you how much of a bonanza that is in winter, to be able to go to your pantry to make a quick yummy dessert!

  18. 18
    Jessi Saucy says:

    So I went to take stock of my jams and 2 cans of raspberry jam from last summer have lost their seal. I know it was definitely depressed right after processing and after they cooled so what’s the deal? What do you guys think? Safe to eat? I have no idea how long they’ve been like that because I haven’t checked them in a few months…

    • 18.1
      Patrice says:

      I was taught. After 24 hours of canning, you label the jars, remove the rings, them move them to your pantry, freezer, or fridge.

      If you do not remove and store the canned goods without the rings, if it didn’t seal properly even though it seemed lounge it did, it will install and seal the whole time its in the pantry, all the whole going bad. This happened to me once. I would not trust it, just throw it out.

  19. 19
    Allison says:

    Great tips! I’m one of those that is always worried about expiration dates, even though I know you can usually go past them… This will hopefully help me not throw away stuff just because it’s been a year!

  20. 20
    cook.bot says:

    Marisa, do you (or any readers here) have any suggestions for mango jam? I can get them right now for $5/case and would love to put some up. But the commercial mango jams I’ve tried have been awful, and I’m scared that it’s difficult to do. Ideas?

    • 20.1
      rose says:

      I just found this site and it is probably a little to late to use up those mangos, but I just made a mango jam a couple of weeks ago and they came out amazingly well. 2lbs cut up mangos, 1 1/2 cup sugar, 3/4 cup water. I cut my mangos into small chunks put everything into the pot and brought to a boil. Then let boil to thicken and turn off heat and spoon into jars. Then process them in the boiling water for 15min. I am the only one in my house that likes mangos and I am so happy that I get all of the jars of the mango jam. Good luck!

  21. 21
    Tammy B. says:

    I make a lot of jams & jellies but, I give enough away during the year that I don’t usually have any expiration date issues. I do date everything so the giftee will know to use it up by that time.

  22. 22

    [...] at Food In Jars has a great Canning 101 educational post on the shelf life of jam. She also has exciting news about hosting author, Kate Payne’s book party in her home in late [...]

  23. 23
    Moonwaves says:

    I definitely make far more jam than I could possibly ever eat (and this will only be my third year!). Then last year, in fact, I just checked the date on the entry and it’s almost exactly a year ago, I found a link to Smitten Kitchen and her easy jam tart http://smittenkitchen.com/2010/04/easy-jam-tart/

    Mine never looks that good but it’s a great way to use up an entire jar of jam at a time. Or usually, I open a jar, use it on toast or bread for a week or so, and then make a jam tart so that I can move on to a different flavour without worrying I’ll have so many jars open I’ll forget which ones need to be used up soon. I’ve also found it good for using up some didn’t quite work out well jams that perhaps hadn’t set very well or the infamous plum jam from 2009 that was just too, too sweet.

  24. 24
    GrannyJae says:

    oh my gosh, folks… the usda, universities, co ext services n all the rest r funded by big business, n of course they want 2 scare y’all away from home canning n storing food long-term! there is NO SUCH THING as expiration dates! it was made up, because 2 many people were self-sufficient n didn’t buy enough, often enough. so now they have y’all believing u can only make small batches in cute canning-only jars n only use regulation recipes, n throw it all away, quick, u might die!! hogwash! anything the ptb’s can can, u CAN 2, lol. if u ever worked at a cannery, u wouldn’t ever worry about ur own home canned stuff ever again, cuz u’d never buy commercial stuff ever again! i’ve still got stuff over 30 yrs old that we still eat, because if my made-up recipe was especially good, i had 2 hide some from the munsters 2 have any left, lol. its still as good as the day it was put up! keep ‘em cool-dry-dark, no probs. IF U LIVE IN HUMID AREAS, u WILL have probs keeping the lids from rusting, long-term. how many of u have used the ‘new-old’ TATTLER reusable plastic/rubber canning lids? i WILL say, if ur newbies, u should follow recipes until u’ve got some experience, like good cooks do n have. if u aren’t a good cook, don’t deviate until u r, lol. canning is a great way 2 feed ur family, especially now in these economic hardtimes. AND y’all know whats in it! blessings 2 y’all.

  25. 25
    Ann says:

    Expiration? What’s that? :-P

    As long as the seal is good, we’ll eat it! Not that it lasts longer than 2-3 years here, even with the quantities that I make. I tend towards making larger quantites of summer canning (accessibility to the fruit/veg) than the winter stuff, like broths, stocks & dried to canned beans, which tends towards more or year round availiblity.

  26. 26

    We are big fans of pancakes in our house, and make them several times a month. So to keep the meal interesting, I throw a few spoonfuls of homemade jams and jellies into the syrup before I heat it up. Then you’ve got delicious flavored syrups with hardly any effort. And it’s a great way to use up the stuff you don’t otherwise eat.

    We’ve eaten jams that are dated 2006 in syrup recently…not adverse effects whatsoever :)

  27. 27
    Evalyn says:

    I have my home canned goods on a five year rotation. I also keep jars in the dark – light seems to degrade the quality of the canned goods. I’m comfortable with my schedule because I grew up eating home canning – literally everthing from soup to meatballs – but if you aren’t comfortable, two or three years seems to be a rational rotation. The seal is the deal; if you don’t get that satifying sucking sound when you lift the seal, don’t eat it, throw it on the compost heap.

  28. 28
    Troy says:

    I remember when I was a young’n, my momma and pappa had a huge garden, well, huge to a 5-10 yr old kid. They grew all sorts of vegetables. I remember snappin’ green beans eand huskin’ corn every year. I also remeber they canned (jarred) up alot of that and stored it in the basement (which I was terrified of because it was unfinished and gave me the willies). Anyways, my mom and dad loved to cook vegetable soups, homemade pasta souces, and other foods that used alot of vegetables. They would always send me down to get a big jar of this, a small jar of that, a medium size jar of these and thats. I remember looking at the lids and seeing that the dates were always +5 years old ( I think they did a good job of rotating stock). This date range was for all sorts of veggies and fruits. I always thought to myself, back when I was a kid, how old can this stuff get before its bad? But of the 1000′s of jars they made over the years, I cannot remember 1 being bad, either in taste or of contamination. They never did meat, so I can’t speak of that, but as for the veggies and fruit, I’m guessing that stuff must store indefinitley.

  29. 29
    rose says:

    My family just opened a jar of raspberry jam from 1992 and it was quite tasty. We made a huge batch of raspberry jam that year and it took us this long to finally get to the last jar. In my family, if the seal is good then open it and see.

  30. 30
    Susie says:

    Hi …

    I would like to get the real deal concerning using lids more than one.. I just starting canning and used my sealing lids twice… but someone told me they should only be used once; however, the seal held just fine… I did some research and see this question is divided into two camps.

    thanks.

  31. 31
    lita says:

    im making low sugar jam but i dont know how long is the shelflife without putting in the fredgerator,is their anyone know

    • 31.1
      Beverly Henry says:

      Hi, I made no sugar rasberry jam last year and it did not last. It turned moldy even though the seal was good. Did you have any trouble with mold after a few months? It was really good when first made and lasted in the refridgerator. Beverly

  32. 32

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  33. 33
    JustAGuy says:

    Would it be ok to eat 3 year old preserves?

    • 33.1
      Marisa says:

      As long as the seals are good, the preserves have maintained their color and smell okay, they’re probably perfectly safe.

  34. 34
    Maureen W says:

    I made some james just a few weeks ago. The strawberry is very dark about 1 / 4 of the way down from the top. The peach is dark about 1 /8 of an inch from the top. Seals are all good. I have over 40 jars of these jams. I made then for a fundraiser and now I can’t use them. Why would they turn dark? I made them exactly as the Sure Jell directions. Thank you.
    Maureen

    • 34.1
      Marisa says:

      Maureen, it sounds like they oxidized a little. There is nothing wrong with them, the discoloration is cosmetic, not a safety hazard. This happens when you leave too much headspace, leave them exposed to sunlight or didn’t drive quite all the air out during processing.

  35. 35
    Raymond Thomas says:

    Not enough liquid over the top of the fruit!

  36. 36
    wendy says:

    Does that really mean I need to throw away the Blackberry Jam I just found from 1998??….. darn!!!

  37. 37
    Chris says:

    I hate best before dates, and challenge them regularly. I’m trying to use up some of my mother’s old jarred fruits right now. Several are clearly no good, but I found a big jar full of strawberries from… 1994! They smelled a *little* different, but the juice they are in tastes not too bad, and I even nibbled on one of the old, firm, yet mushy, mummified strawberries. There was some sediment at the bottom, but the seal was unbroken. I have some really old peaches which have a similar, slightly strange smell to them (probably 6-7 years old) though I made homemade peach wine with this juice last year and it seemed fine and I am still alive. I’m hoping this fruit is just a little gross but not dangerous, but I am really not too worried. I blended up some of these old strawberries and peaches and am dehydrating them into fruit leather at this very moment. I’m more concerned about taste than any real safely hazards. If they aren’t good for me I will know soon enough though, right? lol. I’ll let you guys know in a day or two!

  38. 38
    Chris says:

    The fruit leather didn’t taste terrible, but I just can’t get past knowing how gross the fruit looked and the funny smell lol Can’t win ‘em all. I guess I’ll focus my efforts on making sure food doesn’t have a chance to get that old in the first place.

  39. 39
    Sunni says:

    My grandmother and I have been eating her canned jams made in 1989. We just finished 1994 and opened up another 1989, pineapple & apricot. At first I thought she lost all her marbles when I first saw the dates on her cans but she told me as long as there is sugar or salt in preservation, it lasts forever! Well, obviously because she is 3 months shy of her 99th birthday and still lives on her own.

  40. 40
    Lynne says:

    I made some raspberry preserves in the fall (2013), and didn’t use as much sugar as in previous years. Only made a few jars and stored them in the fridge. I’m noticing a distinct vinegary taste and wonder if they are OK to eat. Could I recook them with more sugar? I’d hate to throw them out. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!

    • 40.1
      Marisa says:

      It sounds like they’ve started to ferment. While they’re not unsafe, recooking them with more sugar won’t eliminate that sour flavor entirely. However, if you want to give it a shot, it won’t do any harm.

      • Lynne says:

        Marisa,
        Thanks so much for your help– I was worried about getting sick. Really appreciate it and love this site. Will be returning often!
        Lynne

  41. 41
    Arlette says:

    Hi…I’ve been searching online for an answer to the longevity question about canned jam since my step-dad insists on using the 20 year old or possibly older jams they had sold in their garden centre. The centre was sold and they brought home the jams. They are quite dark now, I think they were mostly strawberry, and the jars were sealed properly, but I can’t bring myself to ever eat any of it and I worry if they are safe.
    Should I be worried? I can’t seem to convince him not to eat the stuff.

    Disgusted in Ontario,
    Arlette

    • 41.1
      Marisa says:

      I wouldn’t eat it. While it’s probably not actively dangerous (botulism can’t grow in high acid environments, of which jam is one), all it is at this point is colored sugar water. Any fruit flavor is probably long gone and the texture is probably horrible.

  42. 42

    […] jam can be stored for months, if not years! For more details on the shelf-life of canned jam see HERE. But I couldn’t resist, and had to try my jam right away on my Gluten-Free Chia Seed Fig and […]

  43. 43
    Tammy W. says:

    THANK YOU!!! for all the wonderful info!! while going through the old fruit room i found jam’s dating back to 2004—good stuff!! ;)

  44. 44
    JEagle04 says:

    I’ve been eating on some blackberry jelly that my grandpa put up back in 1984. Unbelievably delicious.
    Throw away good food??
    Suck it gov.gov

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