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…

CAN RACK ORGANIZER Made in USA
(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!

WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT

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 ]

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83 Comments

  1. I’ve been stocked with can goods since 2008 so I buy very little now unless it is a sale too hard to pass.

    I’ve noticed more cans are dented–could it be the unnecessary handling of taking the can from the cardboard to stack on the shelf.

    Executives in million dollar offices just don’t get it.

    1) more handling ensures more dents

    2) leaving cans in the cardboard cases prevents needless dents and ensures less dents by stacking neatly and not crashing when moved by shoppers

    3) shoppers will buy where the cans are left in cases—I know I will leave a store if the cans are not in cases.

    Dollar General and Walmart–are you listening??
    I doubt it!!

    1. The dents aren’t happening “from the cardboard to stack on the shelf.” No one’s grabbing cans that hard out of the box. Infrequently, stockers drop a can, but even a few-foot drop isn’t usually enough to dent a can.

      Dents happen before they get to the store during transportation or at the place of origin.

      Source: I worked for years in a grocery store. And cans are kept in-box in backstock, if you want boxed cans, ask for a box of cans; they probably have many unopened boxes in the back.

      1. Thats…. not accurate at all. Ive managed and worked in a grocery before. The vast majority of dents are from stockers being fast and careless, and some coming from the pallet pushers. Same as with case cuts; the slices along the top of boxed goods. Case cuts are from careless stockers also, going to fast and slicing the product when opening the case up.

        1. I just bought a case of canned beans shipped to me still in it’s intact cardboard and plastic wrap. The cans are deeply dented, in a way that could not happen in the case.

          1. I just received 2 containers of canned dog food. Only 8 of 24 cans were intact. Where they were dented positively did not happen in shipping. This is mostly happening from manufacturing plant in my opinion.
            Box was intact as well as the wrap and box the cans were in.

  2. I opened a can of tropical fruit yesterday and there was a very strong smell of the odor that is put in natural gas, so it can be detected. Does that mean that the can might have been spoiled or contain bacteria? Thanks.

    Joyce

    1. Since you never posted again, I’m assuming you ate it and it killed you. RIP, Joyce.

        1. I was going to go ahead and eat these pears in a dented can, but then I thought, WWJD? (What Would Joyce Do?)

      1. Holding an infant while deciding whether to throw out canned lobster that wasnt cheap with a dent on top of it would usually NOT worthy a response….but LMFAO JOYCE!

    2. Hiya,
      Best learn to forage.. when the gardens failed during he depression, people “ate the weeds” and survived.. can you identify poke , sorrel,plantain herb, dandilion, wild lettuce, cat tails?,.linden tree has leaves that makes a tea, ….. dry beans and rice will look good to even those who do not digest them well. there will e no shortage of gas, fuel maybe- but not gas.

      1. The most nutritious and easiest plant to grow on this Earth is known as: Purslane. It grows everywhere.
        It requires virtually no attention, save for when it grows beyond where one wishes it to.

        Every part of the plant is edible and will self germinate year to year. It can be part of any stealth garden, or in any container of one’s yard, and go totally unrecognized as food by the zombies. With just this one plant, all you need will be protein and some starchy roots.

        1. Ision, yes and it has omega 3’s.. is wonderful served in small portions wth beans. as condiment,for it to come up in the wild- one must stir the soil. seed will remain dormant for many years..in soil. it does not like to be transplanted, but it can be done. there s a look alike that has similar growth, a little closer to ground simlar color when young- but leaves are flat-not fat- like purslane’s

  3. So how are we supposed to know when the food is no longer ‘good’?? I am talking about canned foods as well as frozen foods? Even items like pasta noodles? Also I am noticing that more and more items are without dates at all? Seems to me everybody should know when it is deemed ‘bad’.
    A response would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you for your attention in this matter.

    1. BYU did a study on how long cans of food can last past their expiration date. As long as the top or bottom isn’t popped or any of the things Ken was talking about it is ok to eat. They opened a can of meat from when the Chinese sealed cans with mercury, and other than the mercury the meat was still good.

      1. While serving for Uncle Sam we were given plenty of C-Rats (canned rations) that were old as Methulselah. As in Korean War vintage. Other than being extremely salty and barely edible, we ate them. Usually in the vain hopes of an evacuation. So yes, properly canned goods can last YEARS.

  4. Ive 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! Its called botulism and can cause paralysis of the muscles! We are strict about no dented cans stocked on the shelves!

    1. I went to Food Lion today and was informed that they don’t care if their cans are dented they put them on the shelf. What store do you work at? It really pisses me off when I get home and realize that I have a dented can. It just isn’t worth the chance to me when you have children. Send the dents to Save-a-lot where you expect to get substandard items.

    2. Mike,

      Your experience is interesting because I bought 24 pack case of canned beans last week and one isolated can was profoundly swollen on both ends, but otherwise undamaged. As for the other 23 cans, a few were dented, most were not, but none were swollen. In your experience, did you just toss the random swollen can in a case? Or was the entire production lot considered suspect?

  5. Thank you so much for this article. I am a young person who was trying to make some soup, and couldn’t quite recall what my grandmother had said about dented cans, but I remembered that it had been bad. The soup was weird and overly thick, so I threw it out and opened a non-dented can. The non-dented can’s soup was soupy and pourable, not at all like the dented can’s contents. Your article probably just saved me from food poisoning!

  6. all my cans that are remotely near their best before date, have grey blemishes on their bottoms, and sometimes on the lid. sometimes near the opening seam [when they have pulls].

    not really rust just darker grey than the tin and it feels a bit scratchy. i am guessing the beginning of rust?

    how much longer might they be save to eat and if there is rust is there other things than botulism to worry about?

    i can’t really find anything about such [pre-rust?] spots.

  7. @ saba

    The “gray” is the galvanize/coating starting to oxidize…. Mainly from high moisture.

    I would use the normal guidelines set forth here to determine if quality of the food.

    REMEMBER; If in doubt, through it out, a can or two of food is NOT worth the chances of getting food poisoning, or worse.

    JMHO
    NRP

    1. NRP,

      I humbly propose that ‘galvanize’ material is typically zinc, which is highly reactive to acids and is mildly toxic and thus a poor choice for food cans. I learned all about galvanizing, the hard way, after welding it once…. once…. in an enclosed space. It’s probably tin plate or tfs oxidizing. In any event the can is probably plastic lined. If whatever is inside the can ate through that lining, that would be cause enough for me to toss it.

  8. I ordered online cans of pineapples when I received them, they were badly dented are they good to eat?

    1. Katherine,

      As long as the dents aren’t sharp creases or over any top. bottom or side seams, and you follow Ken’s guidelines above, it should be fine. That said, Pineapple is highly acidic. So if the can integrity was compromised you’d probably know it pretty quickly.

    2. Keep watch on the pineapple as it is acid and eats away at the lining of the can. I just threw away two number 10 cans this year that had begun to bulge. Tomatoes also. Acid foods do not keep as long in cans.

      1. I would think so if other guidelines listed are met, no seams involved in denting… I would open one and check , if one is good that has one of worst dents then i would change them to dehydrated.. and seal in oxygen free jars.as soon as possible.

  9. I bought tinned crab back in August and my son didnt realize it was in his garage till the other day when I looked at the tins they have a best before date of sept2018 however the top and bottom of them have swollen and I am not sure if is safe to use or not, please advise thankyou

    1. @anne, If the cans have obviously swollen, I would not consume the contents. You said they were in a garage. Maybe they froze during the winter and expanded (water expands about 10% when it freezes). Or maybe there was something else going on…

      When in doubt throw it out.

    2. anne c oneill
      Ken is correct, if the cans bulge the food inside has been compromised. Food poisoning is not worth it, let alone having it kill you due to botulism.
      Toss the cans

    3. NO! Do not eat ever. The price of a can of food is no where near the price of life or a HOSPITAL BILL!!!

  10. Ken,
    Great information on canned goods. We home can and buy store goods as well . When buying at the store we inspect for any dents and creases. We try to buy in cardboard cases to protect the cans and we store in them also. We have used canned goods 4-6 years old with favorable results, both meat products and veggies.
    If in doubt throw it out is wise advice . It is not worth the risk , especially in a SHTF scenario or if you live in a remote spot.

  11. RosieH,

    I just have to ask….. “Steak and kidney pudding”?? (!!) Is that a real thing? I may have over-looked it on the shelf next to the canned haggis. It spurted and fizzed?? Sorry, I have nothing to add, but I think my breakfast is coming back up…. excuse me >>>>>>>>>>>____

    1. McG
      I agree,
      Steak and kidney pudding?
      I suddenly dont feel so hungry
      Now a nice steak
      And then some chocolate pudding desert, that i can get on board with

      1. Steak and Kidney pudding, is a savory pie made of meats and a staple food in Europe. Kidneys are also grilled and eaten. The “Pudding” is just a different name for a meat pie.

  12. If you have light rust on the cans, you can use vinegar on your wipe to remove the rust from your can, then let it dry with vinegar on the container.(do not rinse it off)

    1. If you have any kind of dehydrator or freeze dryer , change storage methods of any foods whose cans are developing light rust…
      I had some string beans that had gotten cases damp on bottoms of cans and the rim had just begun rusting. I put them in rotation to begin using right away…and changed them to dehydrated string beans. I think it was 8 cans = one pint jar. I stored with oxygen absorbers and will use these for making soup.
      Another option is to lightly sand with fine sandpaper and apply food grade oil or clear varnish to the cans bottom/rims

    2. Antique Collector!! Rust on the cans usually means they’ve been around for TOO LONG!! Throw out any can that doesn’t have a “Best By” Date!!

    1. Oh no , I ate some but not all of the baked beans because they tasted tinny , I threw the rest out and realized they were a year out of date , the lid exploded off when I opened it .
      Praying now 😔

  13. Not long after Mr. and were married he wanted me to open a #10 can of chili. It did not look swollen, but when I opened the can it spurted out. We had an argument about whether he should eat the chili. Finally I convinced him not to. Some days I think hummm maybe I shouldn’t have fought so hard LOL :-)…………….. Point being a can does not have to be very swollen. Any can that I can push in with my finger goes in the trash. It is part of what we have to deal with as “life style people”. Buy freeze dried acidic foods for a longer life. A bit more money but much longer shelf life.

  14. Avoid buying the cans with the pull top lid. The metal is thinner. I have had a few that failed long before the expiration date.

    1. Peanut Gallery…for sure I agree. Myself have bumped some of these, or had some fall over in trunk and this happened. I now only buy them if I can set them in cupboard and use soon.

  15. That was Dennis.
    Ken, is this failure to remember us after a post going to be permanent?

    1. Dennis, I haven’t changed anything. I do believe there was a WordPress update not too long ago, but that shoudn’t affect cookies. My guess is your browser (private browsing?) clearing out your cookies.

      1. Ken, no changes on my end, that I’m aware of, either. I think several others are experiencing the same failure to remember our names.

      2. I just found out what’s going on with the comments not remembering your alias name…

        WordPress (the core software for this blog and most blogs on the planet) updated its software to comply with European Union’s new GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) laws.

        It’s supposed to add a selection box in the comment area for you to choose if you want it to remember your name (and email). However it’s not showing up on my site because of other software that now needs to be updated because of this…

        So, long story short, when the fix is implemented, you’ll know it. Until then you will need to add your name each time.

  16. The only dented can I would ever eat from is if I dropped it on the floor just before I opened it. I agree with those who say don’t buy dented cans, and don’t eat from them. What do you lose, a dollar? Food poisoning is horrible. I NEVER take a chance anymore.

  17. The Hormel products are supposed to have the longest shelf life because they heat the cans after they are sealed. Hormel also makes Dinty Moore, Ma Kitchen and I think, B&M . I don’t know if they use the same method for all of them. The shelf life is supposed to be ten years.
    Still, you must make a check when opening the cans.
    Botulism can be killed with a good ten minute boil (I’ve read). Don’t take my word for it!
    Stay frosty.

  18. Dennis,
    Use the grub worms to catch a fish instead. even that grub worm looks good compared to food poisoning. Have had a severe case a couple of times and do not want another.. any food that has swollen cans should be thrown intact into a approved garbage facility.
    Polk has herbal/medicinal applications…according to “The Southern Herbalist- Darryl Patton”. He has some you tube videos one can learn significantly from on you tube. Even the berries that are poison can be used following his precise instructions for arthritis/anti inflammatory. The roots have other uses…

  19. I am still working so I do not grow my own food or can my food or produce.
    This article pertains to me since most of my stores are in the form of cans. Thanks for the article and all of the input to stay safe out there.

    Since I work in the area of healthcare, I must agree that consuming tainted food is costly in terms of hospital visit. Treating this at home means you will be going through NRP’s TP pyramid rapidly and you will also be going through any possible stores of fluid and electrolyte replacement as fast or faster than the TP. I also like to have a box of saltines and/or pretzel sticks on hand along with Sprite or 7 up.

    I would not take Imodium as this tends to give one a false sense of security. get used to the idea of camping out while seated on the throne while keeping a wastebasket in front of you. It is a great weight loss plan!

    Unfortunately, for those that have inadequate supplies on hand to clean up and stay hydrated, it is a miserable way to die. To whomever posted about thinning out the gene pool by passing out tainted food, Remember that death by food poisoning and dehydration tends to remove the very young and the very old first and foremost. There is nothing more sad than burying a child. ( This same line of thought led to an English Army Officer handing out smallpox laden blankets to the local Indian tribes in early America.) Good luck finding a group out there. I want nothing to do with you pal.

    The most useful thing I can think of for a can of expired food is to throw it at a critter so you can eat the critter. I throw like a girl so I will stick to my 22 rifle to bag critters. Seriously about disposal, I would burn it.

    I try not to buy dented cans in the store. I donate cans of food or even better, I write a check to the local food pantry because cash is so much more versatile. Sometimes, those in need actually need: diapers, baby wipes, clothing rather than canned food.

    Lastly, I write on the top of can the date of purchase and contents if it is in a garage or outbuilding where it is subjected to temperature extremes because the glue holding the paper label will make the label fall off. I try to eat it and rotate my food stocks so it is consumed within one year.

  20. Good recap on the Article Ken.

    I’m wondering if the people reading this Article really realize how cheap Caned Food is here in the US? Actually all foods, but we’re talking canned foods.
    Most people would have zero problems with dropping $7-$10 on a Crap-puccino Coffee from Star-Bucks yet worry about a buck a can for a good canned meal.
    My point being, toss out that dented can and buy 10 more to replace it.
    And seriously, how many “Dented Cans” do you have?
    Maybe one should stop tossing them around like Tennis Balls for the dog, and take a little more care in their food storage?
    Yeah Yeah Yeah, I know poop-happens, but if you drop a can and dent it, eat the food ASAP (couple of days if refrigerated) and move on.

    As everyone says, “When in doubt throw it out.”

  21. To Dennis:

    Your original question about rendering tainted food safe: Unfortunately, many of the toxins produced by anaerobic bacteria found within poorly canned foods or damaged cans are of the type called neurotoxins which means they interfere with the synapses of the nerve junctions. Sadly enough, it does not take very much to lead to a fatal dosing. One of the most famous of these types of bacteria is botulism. It is a tough micro-organism and it or its spores can survive light boiling.

    The plant based toxins are called cumulative poisons because they do not kill you right away if you eat a serving size raw. I am not familiar with Poke in the South. Out here in the West, Indians used to eat acorns after boiling in water to remove the tannic acids that were in the acorns. Tannic acid is one example of a cumulative poison found in plants.

    Here in the PNW going out to gather mushrooms is a popular pastime. Every once in a while, there are stories of whole families of mushroom pickers found dead along with the occasional stoner looking for psylicibin (Magic mushrooms) There are many who call themselves “experts” up here. I will continue to buy my button mushrooms from the store.

    1. Calirefugee;
      Interesting you should mention Shrooms, a very long time ago while back in CA, I lost a good friend to bad Mushrooms, He though he had found some liberty cap, mushies, unfortunately they were Conocybe filaris , we never found out if he picked them or someone sold them to him……

      DO NOT eat the Shrooms if ya don’t know what your doing…. Death is for a very long time.

  22. I have loved skimming through this thread – Thank you for the original article and all of the replies! I am on the west coast and brought back a perfectly un-dented can of B&M Brown Bread from my recent visit to New England. It was one of the things my parents bought when I was a kid, and my own kids could not believe you can buy bread in a can.

    Well, the side of the can got pretty dented in my luggage!

    I’m wondering how long I have to eat it before I should worry, given the integrity of the can is now compromised. Days, weeks, months? The stamped date is 2020.

  23. I just received an 8 can sealed carton of Hun’t Diced Tomatoes. Upon opening the box I discovered that Every Single Can was seriously dented. How is this possible? I threw the whole batch out-just not worth it!!!

    1. I’ve experienced similar issues sometimes.

      Whether it’s damaged during production, or on the manufacturing line, or anytime during shipment, no one wants to be ‘to blame’. So they cover it up, send it on down the line to the consumer…

    2. I just bought two cases of Hunt’s stewed tomatoes. Nearly all cans were dented…some seriously.

      1. Botulism cannot be killed even if you boiled it for days on end. Boiling water temperature will not kill it. It has to be pressure cooked or canned to get the temp up to about 140 or more for a period of some minutes to kill the botulism toxin.
        Go to Rosered Homestead on UTube and watch her videos about botulism. She’s a scientist and knows what she’s talking about. Better safe than sorry, you might not live to tell aboit it.

  24. Walmart keep selling Mango juice in highly dented cans, which I refuse to buy, but when they have no good stock I don’t get any juice. Is it Ok to drink.

      1. Have seen that used as an ingredient on Chopped a few times,
        If its shelf life is like other canned goods it would be great for a food stash.

  25. dented cans at the grocer? i just don’t buy em. let someone else take the loss. it’s like buying a brand new truck with a dent in the fender for the same price as one without, nope.
    I’m told that Botulism is a hard way to die.

  26. I purchased a can of tomato sauce and from all visual external inspection the can was in perfect condition. I emptied the can contents and looked inside and noticed a dark spot on the bottom surface. I turned the can over and notice a very small dent, the dent looked like a airgun BB hit it. It was so small I didn’t consider it a “dent” on the original inspection.

    Basically this little dent fractured the internal coating of the can which allowed the acidic tomato sauce to begin to corrode the can from the inside. Overtime the can would have been breached allowing air inside and botulism to form. It probably wouldn’t have pressurized. For this reason I visually look inside every can I open, I also do not purchase any dented cans.

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