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Old Spam better than new Spam?
March 5, 2013 7:33 AM   Subscribe

Age your canned goods - Why I now think of best-by dates as maybe-getting-interesting-by dates.

The trouble with aging canned goods is that it takes years to get results. However, we can take a hint from manufacturers, who often accelerate shelf-life tests by storing foods at high temperatures. A general rule of thumb is that the rate of chemical reactions approximately doubles with each 20-degree rise in temperature. Store foods at 40 degrees above normal—around 100 degrees—and you can get an idea of a year’s change in just three months. (Slate via The Browser)
posted by kuujjuarapik (34 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is totally fascinating and wonderful; thanks so much for posting it.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:41 AM on March 5, 2013


If this was from anyone but McGee, I'd be suspicious. But when I worked sorting canned donated food, we were told that we could take up to a year past the printed expiration date.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:44 AM on March 5, 2013


"Less bouncy." Hmm. Right -- aged spam it is!
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 7:44 AM on March 5, 2013


묵은지 (Mugeunji) is what happens to kimchi if you age it. "Isn't kimchi aged already?" you ask, and you would be correct. 묵은지 is what happens if you age kimchi, and then age it so you can age your kimchi while you age your kimchi. Take it out, and wait a bit too long. Eat with samgyeopsal. Actually, you can put it in army base soup(Budae jjigae) so you can put your aged spam in, too.
posted by curuinor at 7:49 AM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


According to the early canning chroniclers A. W. and K. G. Bitting, in 1852, Raymond Chevallier-Appert presented to the French Society for the Encouragement of National Industry an entire sheep, already a year in the can.

I have a crush on this fact. I really hope they never opened it or threw it out and it's still ripening in a Parisian basement somewhere.
posted by theodolite at 7:50 AM on March 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Sing it, brudda! Spam for life!
posted by Diagonalize at 7:52 AM on March 5, 2013


I think there should be multiple dates on all food. Sell by, eat by, risk it, die.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:55 AM on March 5, 2013 [23 favorites]


I wonder how this would go with a whole chicken in a can ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:02 AM on March 5, 2013


Thanks for posting this. I picked up the issue of Lucky Peach (the Apocalypse Issue) in which TFA was originally printed and it is a gem. Worth buying for John Jeremiah Sullivan's essay on "salvation through preservation" alone.
posted by AceRock at 8:05 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm picturing an updated "now I finally have time to read" Twilight Zone where the Last Man on Earth opens a deliciously aged can of Spam and it kills him.
posted by DU at 8:06 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not going to kill you but it is going to up your Rads.
posted by The Whelk at 8:08 AM on March 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


My folks pick up a copy of Lucky Peach every now and again, and it's a very unusual food magazine. They have interesting articles about odd topics (like this one), but their recipes are not reliable. There were a couple of baked good that were absolute disasters if prepared as written. A bunch of people wrote in to complain and they printed a substantial correction in the next issue. There was some other recipe, can't remember what they were making, where one of the steps of "just fuck around with it a bit."

So, fun, but results not guaranteed.
posted by echo target at 8:17 AM on March 5, 2013


I have a 20 year old can of Spam. It kinda rattles in there like a big dry turd.

Bidding starts at $100.
posted by klanawa at 8:20 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of the end of Earth Abides where the hunter-gatherer descendants of those who survived the plague still eat the canned good leftovers from civilization (which only occassionally make them sick).
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:29 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Those vintage cans of Billy Beer must be amazing by now.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:30 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Missing canieatthis tag.
posted by beagle at 8:31 AM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Call me an old fuddy duddy, but the idea of eating expired canned goods does not appeal to me.
posted by Diablevert at 8:36 AM on March 5, 2013


According to the early canning chroniclers A. W. and K. G. Bitting, in 1852, Raymond Chevallier-Appert presented to the French Society for the Encouragement of National Industry an entire sheep, already a year in the can.

His slogan: "The Can… Can!"

I've previously written of my love for 20 year old Australian Army condensed milk rations.
posted by zamboni at 8:36 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


French Society for the Encouragement of National Industry

I find this amusing, as I think would most of the French people I know who work somewhere other than France.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:41 AM on March 5, 2013


I have a 20 year old can of Spam. It kinda rattles in there like a big dry turd.

I think "like" is under-selling it a little.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:23 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


As I've played through the Fallout series I've always wondered how a 200 year tin of meat would taste, or a similarly ancient can of apples in syrup. Apparently it tastes like +5 hp and +3 rads.
posted by codacorolla at 9:23 AM on March 5, 2013


I would like a brief education on why this confers no danger of botulism.
posted by psoas at 9:36 AM on March 5, 2013


audi alteram partem: "This reminds me of the end of Earth Abides where the hunter-gatherer descendants of those who survived the plague still eat the canned good leftovers from civilization (which only occassionally make them sick)."

God, that ending was depressing. I realize that it was realistically, almost absurdly optimistic-the human race will survive just fine. But the way he watches civilization die before his eyes....
posted by Chrysostom at 9:54 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


psoas--I believe it is because of this, and why home canning is more dangerous. From wiki "Foodborne botulism can be prevented by use of pressure cooking or autoclaving at 121 °C (250 °F) for 30 minutes when canning to kill the spores, or by providing conditions that prevent the spores from growing. Additional precautions for infants include not feeding them honey.[3]" Home canners run the risk of insufficient heating.
posted by rmhsinc at 10:25 AM on March 5, 2013


I've always wondered how a 200 year tin of meat would taste...

When I was in the military we found a pallet of c-rations from around WWII. We opened some of them and I decided I HAD TO smoke the 50 year old Lucky Strike cigarettes. You know, for history! I was full of dumb decisions back then.

Learn from my mistakes, people! Never smoke a 50 year old cigarette.

I also tried the gum (it was still good), but couldn't get myself to eat any of the meat products.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:53 AM on March 5, 2013


Damn it, don't tell anyone else about Cougar Cheese! I need it all, for me. ALL FOR ME.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:57 AM on March 5, 2013


Also:

I think there should be multiple dates on all food. Sell by, eat by, risk it, die.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:55 AM on March 5

You left out "Post AskMe" -- I'm guessing that's between "risk it" and "die"?
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:00 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure I still have a canned ham my mother sent me in 1997. I'm not actually sure WHY she did (as I had never in my life eaten canned ham, like in that weird shaped can), but I'm certain she sent it to me when I lived in New York and it must have been after they visited me and, in their middle class Canadian suburban shock declared my small but perfectly well appointed (I even had a dishwasher which should have made the futon less shocking) urban studio akin to "a refuge camp" (it remains the only truly hurtful thing my parents have ever said or done to me). I guess refuges need canned meats?

I've since moved that canned ham from NY to California and through three apartments. It currently lives on the top shelf of my kitchen pantry. I do not dare open it but it seems perfectly well-sealed and contained. Or, it was the last time I was up there. I should check that out when I get home...
posted by marylynn at 3:09 PM on March 5, 2013


..when I worked sorting canned donated food, we were told that we could take up to a year past the printed expiration date.

Yeah, there is big a problem with that. Once you accept the donation, you give it to someone and they eat it. Poor people have enough problems getting food that is nutritious. Don't compound their problems by giving them expired, crappy food.

I go to the local Food Bank myself pretty often, since I am really poor. There are times I would have had no food at all, if not for their charity. But I draw the line at expired food. And they give out a lot of it. I remember when I became aware of the problem, I ate some cookies and they tasted like ammonia. I checked the expiration date, it had just expired a month ago. I wondered what they tasted like just a month ago.

But this is about expired canned goods. I remember once I heated up and ate a can of soup from the Food Bank. It tasted horribly bitter and strongly metallic. I fished the can out of the trash and discovered it had expired a few months earlier.

I used to see a LOT of that kind of crap, when I worked in the food tent at my local Occupy Wall Street camp. I would sometimes see people bring food that was obviously taken from the local Food Bank, they were the cheap industrial brands made for charities and marked Not For Sale. And I would have to sort out the cans for expiry. Some of them were a year old, and bulging. All of this crap had to go to the City Dump, not into some trash can near the camp where homeless might find it while dumpster diving and then die of botulism. This sort of expired food donations actually happened enough that it became a burden. Poor people would try to help the occupiers, but this was their rejected food, stuff that sat on a shelf until it expired, and then they dumped it on us. They cleared out their pantry of waste food, and we had to pay to dispose of it. But all donations were accepted with an expression of sincere gratitude.

Water is the universal solvent. It will dissolve anything, given time. It will dissolve solid rock until it's the Grand Canyon. Almost every canned product is canned in water. It will gradually dissolve the can. My grandfather told me about this, in exactly this manner. He was a researcher for the USDA and one of his specialties was design of industrial scale canning factories. If I told you some of his stories, it would shock even Upton Sinclair.

So instead of horrific stories, I will give a practical example. I have a can of my mother's bread & butter pickles. I am certain it is at least 15 years old, but I suspect it to be over 25 years old. It was canned in a transparent glass Mason Jar, using techniques that certainly were approved by her father the USDA canning expert, as she learned them when she was a child in his home. And my mom did a LOT of canning. Glass canning might last longer than metal cans, since dissolved glass is basically inert, unlike cans (which used to be soldered together using poisonous tin and lead). But Mason Jar lids are metal too.

Here is a photo of my mom's favorite pickles. My mom loved these pickles but nobody else really liked them. When my mom died, I found this old glass jar in the back of her pantry. I tried to foist it on all my siblings, but they all vehemently refused. Now it has been sitting on my shelf for almost a decade. When the pickles were new, they were bright green. Now they have darkened and the entire can is blackening. It looks ominous, with translucent strips of pickled onion that look like tapeworms. There is air in the jar, but the can lid has not popped, it appears to be still properly sealed. The outer lid is starting to corrode, but I'm afraid to open it just to look at the inner seal, I'm afraid it will open up by accident and my little science experiment will come to an abrupt end. I am sure as hell not going to eat it. Nobody wants it. Do I have any volunteers? Perhaps we can contact the author and force him to eat it. If he thinks food that is newly expired is "just getting interesting," this ought to be the most fascinating food he ever ate. Or it could be his last meal.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:41 PM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


....*raises hand* charlie don't surf, I want to read horrifying tales of dystopian canned items.
posted by DisreputableDog at 6:54 PM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wish we'd let this guy go through my grandparents' house after they passed away. Definitely we found canned goods from the 1980s, both store-bought and home-canned. My grandpa had a bunch of WWII-era MREs (I imagine they weren't called MREs back then, but the WWII equivalent) stashed in the garage. He owned a surplus store which I assume is why he had them in the first place.

My mom brought me back a bunch of frozen dried fruit and nuts from the early 90s when they cleaned out the house. They're very dry but still fine to eat. If you ever find yourself with a bunch of frozen 20+ year old dried apricots I recommend you soak them in hot water before you attempt to bite into them.
posted by town of cats at 8:25 PM on March 5, 2013


charlie don't surf - it would be such a shame to breach this holy-of-holies for a "just interesting."

However, it would be super neat to do a microbial culture ($10 on negative, but you never know about hibernating spores) if it ever accidentally/inevitably was to be opened as well as heavy mineral/metal ions assays.

You should let someone in food sciences specializing in food preservation research know that you have this potentially valuable artifact. On consideration, I'm sure there are (well, at least there ought to be) libraries/collections of curated specimens, but you never know? Stuff gets lost or thrown out sometimes.
posted by porpoise at 9:40 PM on March 5, 2013


As it turns out, I have some Spam in the can which just passed the expiry date a few months ago. I was going to chuck it, but now I'm having second thoughts.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:55 AM on March 6, 2013


Americans, when you are talking about expired cans are you talking about home canned goods?
I don't get charlie don't surf's comment about expired canned food donations being bad. That just can't happen with industrial metal canned foods unless the container is broached.
Yet the comment makes it sound like expired cans are routinely bad, rather than very, very, very rarely bad.
There is no microbial danger from eating industrial canned food of *any* age, even decades after production, if the can is intact (and I'd take some convincing there is a danger from contamination of the contents from contact with the container).
It just is not possible for dangerous bacteria to be alive in an intact can.
A bulging can indicates it was improperly processed, and should be incredibly rare I don't think i have ever seen one in Australia).
I am really surprised that it seems canned foods are prepared in such a slipshod way (apparently) in the US.
posted by bystander at 3:40 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


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