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Can You Eat Canned Tomatoes After the Expiration Date?

Canned tomatoes are a pantry staple. Delicious and versatile, you can cook up any meal with canned tomatoes. From cold gazpacho soup in summer to hearty ragú sauce for a pasta meal on a cold winter night, canned tomatoes are a favorite in our household.

Here’s the thing about canned tomatoes. Sometimes, you like them so much, that you stock up really well whenever your favorite brand is on sale at the grocery store (mine is De Cecco). You stock up so well, in fact, that you have more cans than you could possibly cook before the expiry date.

If that’s what happened to you, you’re searching online and wondering…

Can you eat canned tomatoes after the expiration date?

In general, more acidic foods like tomatoes will keep for 12-18 months when canned; less acidic foods like meat for 3-5 years.

You can eat canned tomatoes past the expiry date as long as the cans are unharmed and show no signs of bulging. Canned tomatoes keep their best quality for 1-2 years, but stay safe to eat for a really long time.

To eat canned tomatoes after their expiration date has passed, open the can, and carefully examine their quality. Do the tomatoes smell bad and spoiled? Can you see any mold?

If the answer to any of these safety checks is “yes,” the tomatoes are a definite no-go and, to avoid food illness, you should throw away the can.

Expiry Date vs. Best Before Date

According to the USDA, as long as the cans are without any dents, swelling, or rust, and have been stored in a cool and dry place, they are safe indefinitely.

Canning is a high-heat process, which kills off and prevents the growth of any bad organisms. Canned food is indefinitely safe, but it will naturally lose its qualities, freshness, and nutritional value with time—until it becomes unappealing to eat.

Since canned food doesn’t really expire, some producers will print a “best before” date instead of an expiry date on their cans. The best by date is essentially a quality indicator, not a safety indicator. It indicates when you as the consumer of the food will notice a decrease in quality.

The real danger in canned foods, the USDA’s website says, is a neurotoxin produced by bacteria called Clostridium botulinum.

To protect yourself from botulism, you should never use tomatoes from cans that show signs of leaking, bulging, denting, or cracking. If canned tomatoes smell foul or the container spurts bubbly liquid when opening, you must discard it.

How to Store Leftover Canned Tomatoes

Do you have leftover canned tomatoes? Don’t leave them out at room temperature for more than 2 hours.

Here’s how to store them so that you can prevent food waste—and eat or cook with them at a later time instead.

Seal the can in a plastic bag and store it in the fridge. Once open, a can of tomatoes will keep for up to 5 days in the fridge. If you see any mold growth earlier, throw it away and don’t eat or cook with it.

To store leftover canned tomatoes for a longer period of time, transfer them from the can to an airtight container or zip-lock bag, and put them in the freezer. Canned tomatoes will keep in the freezer for up to 6 months.

The Bottom Line

So, are canned tomatoes safe to eat past their expiration date? Nine times out of ten, they are.

How you store the cans determines how much of the quality they retain (and whether they are safe to eat or not). As long as they’ve been stored in a cool and dry place and the can itself is unharmed (not opened, dented, rusted).

The longer the time since the expiration date, the more degraded the taste, texture, and aromatics of the tomatoes will be. This is because canned food can be stored for practically any period of time, but the expense of its best qualities.

Canned TomatoesStorage LocationStorage TemperatureStorage Duration
UnopenedPantry or kitchen cabinetRoom temperature
(approx. 70°F)
Best by 18-24 months, but can be stored indefinitely
OpenedFridge33.8°F – 40°FUp to 5 days
OpenedFreezer0° FUp to 6 months
How to store canned tomatoes

Once you’ve opened a can of tomatoes, you should eat or cook with it immediately. You can store any leftovers in the fridge (for up to 5 days) or in the freezer (for up to 6 months).

Know your author

Written by

Jim is the former editor of Home Cook World. He is a career food writer who's been cooking and baking at home ever since he could see over the counter and put a chair by the stove.