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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  • Check the recipe index for more tasty preserves!

86 Responses to Canning 101: The Shelf Life of Jam

  1. 51
    Darcy says:

    Glad I found this page. I opened some strawberry jam that has been in the freezer about 22 months and found a small amount of white, waxy material along the inside of the jar, just above the jam itself. The jam was made with a very small amount of sugar (recipe called for 4 cups but only 1/2 cup was used) and pectin. I have found this in the last two jars I have opened and while the jam looks and tastes fine, I’m hesitant to eat it because I’m not sure what it could be. Anyone have any ideas?

  2. 52
    Elizabeth says:

    If in doubt throw it out. I never take a chance with anything remotely “off” in preserved goods. You can always make more! 🙂

  3. 53
    Charity says:

    Can tomato jam be stored in pantry’s (like other jams & jellies)? The recipes I’m finding are saying to refrigerate when done… we don’t have that type of space & I don’t want it to waste it(or give All of it away).

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