Are Dented Cans Safe? Here’s How To Tell

Are Dented Cans Safe?

The first thing I think about when I see dented cans at the grocery store, at home, or wherever… “Are dented cans safe?” If a can of food is dented, it might be unsafe to eat the food contents. BUT, not all dented food cans are bad. Keep reading… Here’s how to decide.

(article updated with more pictures)

I don’t know about you, but, there seems to be a lot of dented cans out there these days at the grocery stores. Also, dog food cans… I buy them by the case and there’s almost always some dented cans.

Some dented cans of food may be perfectly safe.

Here’s how to tell the difference.

There are several ways to determine whether or not a dented can of food may be safe to eat, or, if it should be discarded:

Push on the Top and Bottom of the Can

If the top or bottom moves or makes a popping sound, the seal has probably been broken. Air may have made its way inside. Throw out cans that make that popping sound.

If the can does not make a noise or does not give under pressure when pressing on the top and bottom, it’s probably safe to eat (the seal is still good). But keep reading for more checks…

Dents on Top, Bottom, or Seams

There are two types of seams on a can: side seams and end seams.

Side seams are on the side of the can and are usually covered by the label. End seams are on the top and sometimes the bottom of the can. If there is a dent over any of these seams, it may be unsafe.

Avoid buying cans that are dented on the seams. This is where it’s weakest – where the main seams of the can are located.

The picture below shows two dented cans. Both are considered potentially unsafe. Why? Well, the one on the left is dented across the vertical seam. You don’t really know it’s on the seam unless you peel the label. If it were not on the seam (see the image in next section) it would be considered minor, and likely safe.

The can on the right has a major sharp dent right on the top seam. This should be considered likely unsafe.

The next picture is a can with a dent on the bottom. Some cans don’t have a seam on the bottom (like this one). The following is likely safe.

Dent on Sides of Can – Probably Okay

Are dented cans safe? Well, if the can is dented along the side it will probably be safe for consumption, provided that you checked for other issues listed here. However, if a dent has sharp or pointed edges, it should be considered unsafe.

Here’s a picture of dented cans. The one on the left only has a minor defect and is likely safe. The dent, although large, does not have sharp edges or creases. The dent also does not involve the top, bottom or side seams.

The can on the right has a major dent. Actually, two dents. And they come together to form a point. The crease there is potentially unsafe.

Bulging And Bloated Can – Not Safe!

If it’s bulging and bloated (unlike an ordinary dent), it is not safe. Cans will bulge and bloat when bacteria begins to produce gasses which push the can outward.

A commenter here said, “I’ve worked in a Supermarket 24 years and have seen my share of bloated cans that were still in the cases! They don’t have to be dented to be bloated!”

Is Rust Visible Anywhere on the Can?

Rust will weaken the integrity of the can and may allow air and bacteria to enter, particularly if the rust does not simply brush off.

Does The Can ‘Spray’ Out When You Open It? Not Safe!

When you open a normal can (either a pull tab or with a can opener) you will hear the subtle sound of air entering the can as the slight vacuum-seal of the can is released.

However, the contents should NEVER ‘ spray ‘ out when the can’s seal is first punctured with a can opener or by pulling the tab. This would indicate the can is under pressure (rather than a vacuum). Bacteria inside the can will cause it to bloat under pressure.

Unusual Odor After Opening?

Use your nose! Abnormal odor after opening? Don’t eat it. Throw it out.

The most popular can rack organizer that fits on existing shelves. It’s nice because it rolls down so that the oldest can is used first. This is called FIFO, or First in, First out…

(view on amzn)

Dented Cans on SALE at the Grocery Store

In my estimation, most ordinary dented cans are safe. They may have been dropped or mishandled, and sometimes put on sale at the grocery store discount shelf. Save money by knowing how to tell the difference between a safe or otherwise unsafe dented can of food. Sometimes these (dented) cans are on sale for a fraction of the price!


Having said all that, when in doubt, throw it out.

(Information and pictures gathered from sources including grocery store owners, USDA inspectors, and Dept. of Public Health.)

 [ Read: Use-by and Sell-by Dates ]