What do you do when you discover a can of food has a dent in it? If you are like most people, you return it to the supermarket shelf and select another can. But what if that can is marked at a tempting sale price because of the dent? Or what if that can is already on your pantry shelf?
Is it safe to eat food from a dented can? Well, the answer is yes and no. Yes, a dent can be a sign of danger in some cases, but no, not all dented cans are a problem.
According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Services, if a can of food has a small dent but otherwise appears sound, the contents should be safe to eat. However, there are five important warning signs to consider when deciding to keep a can or to discard it.
- If you notice a dent, try pushing on the top and the bottom of the can. If the top or bottom of the can moves or if you hear a popping sound, you should discard the can. The dent has broken the seal and air has entered the can, making the contents unsafe.
- Look for any signs of bulging or bloating in the can. The swelling is most likely caused by the gases from harmful bacteria growing inside the can. Do not open a bulging can because even breathing the fumes can be dangerous.
- Similarly, be mindful of any spraying when you open a can of food. A can that sprays or explodes when you open it probably contains bacteria.
- Examine the can for rust. Rust is a sign that the integrity of the can may be weak and that air may have penetrated the can’s interior.
- Consider the size and location of the dent. If it is along the seam of a can, it can be an indication that the can’s seal is broken. If the dent is deep, air could have entered the can.
Air combined with moisture can allow microorganisms to grow in the can. These microorganisms may not be killed even if you heat the contents of the can.
Although it is rare, botulism, a deadly poison produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum (C. botulinum), can occur in canned goods. Botulism spores can survive in foods that are incorrectly processed or minimally processed.
Cooking food at high temperatures will kill the normal C. botulinum organism, but the spores are more difficult to destroy.
Symptoms of foodborne botulism poisoning begin anywhere between 12 and 36 hours after the consumption of the toxic food. Symptoms include muscle weakness, blurred vision, slurred speech, dry mouth and difficulty swallowing. The illness can be fatal if not treated early enough, and even people who are treated successfully can have lingering symptoms of fatigue and shortness of breath for many months afterward.
The good news is that there are only an average of 145 cases of botulism each year in the United States, and 15 percent of those cases are caused by foodborne bacteria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here is a final word of advice when it comes to dented cans. If you discover a bulging can on your pantry shelf, put on disposable gloves and then place it in a sealable plastic bag.
Then place that bag in another plastic bag before placing it in your outside trash can – not with your recyclables. Do not pour the contents down the sink or the toilet. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water if you suspect you have handled a contaminated can.
What is your advice for eating from dented cans? Share your tips in the section below: