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!

96 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).

  4. 54
    Elizabeth says:

    I have Red Raspberry Jam I made on Saturday of Labor Day weekend in 2016. I store the jars in my closet with a door which is dark and dry and was cool. My apartment has been hot. Could that be a problem for those jars that are still in there ?

  5. 55
    Adrienne Low says:

    Hi, I have several jars of apricot jam which are a year old. I’ve noticed the top of the jam is a dark brown color whereas the rest of the jam in the jar is orange. Is it still good to eat?! Why is it darker at the top?

    • 55.1
      Marisa says:

      Your jam oxidized. It often happens with light colored preserves. Just scrape off the discoloration and use what’s below.

  6. 56
    Sue says:

    Canned figs to make fig jam–used a lot of sugar–1 lbs figs to 1 cup sugar…Jars and lids were hot water sterilized and then filled and then put back in canning pot for 20 minutes to get hot again. Took jars out and heard all of them pop to seal–checked all the jars and they all sealed.

    The fig jam is very sweet–I didn’t use lemon juice or citric acid.

    How long can I count on these to keep safely? Currently all kept at room temperature in an air conditioned house (Florida). I would like to start giving some jars as gifts.

    • 56.1
      Marisa says:

      Figs need either lemon juice or citric acid in order to be safe. Otherwise, they’re too low in acid to be safely canned. I wouldn’t consider your fig jam safe for gifting since there was no added acid.

  7. 57
    Lynn Dalton says:

    I just opened a jar of raspberry jam from a farmers market. We ate some before I noticed that the jam was a much lighter color two inches down, then I saw a tiny black streak on the underside of the lid. No fuzz, white, or anything. Just dark jam and a black streak. Do you think this was mold? They use honey, lemon, and pectin in the process.
    Thanks in advance!

    • 57.1
      Marisa says:

      I think it’s fine. Some slight discoloration is totally normal (particularly with honey) and if the lid had any scratches, that could account for the dark streak. I wouldn’t worry about the safety of that jam!

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