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. Chances are that it’s probably okay.

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 move when pressing on the top and bottom, it’s probably safe to eat (the seal is still good).

Dents on Top, Bottom, or Seams

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

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.

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.

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.

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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 gathered from sources including grocery store owners and USDA inspectors.)

 [ Read: Use-by and Sell-by Dates ]

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74 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.

  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!

  3. Very useful page to find. I’ve just had a Steak and Kidney Pudding and felt the tin looked a little bloated to what they normally do. There was a slight dent in the top too. When I opened it it made a noise and did spurt out a bit but it smelt Ok so I heated it up. The first taste I knew something was wrong. Sort of fizzy. I daren’t eat it. The supermarket where I shop always has a load of dented tins and I try and avoid them. This has made me very wary indeed and I think the dangers need to be publicised more. What would have happened if I’d eaten it?

    1. 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.

      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 😔

  4. 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.

  5. 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?

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. @ 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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!!!

  11. 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.

  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

  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. Question for all. I think everyone understands the dangers of tainted canned goods and the wisdom of discarding them if there is any questions as to it’s safety during “normal” times. BUT, we as a group tend to not to be prepping for or planning for “normal” times. Rather, we are trying to find answers for the what if’s of terrible times. Does anybody know of studies of what it would take to render tainted food safe?
    Here in the south Poke is still a favorite, but to be rendered non-poisonous there is a certain rather tedious process to be followed. Why were people willing to keep trying for a solution to render it safe to eat? Simple, starvation will make you search for something to fill your stomach.
    We all know that heat is the enemy of bacteria and pressure cooking is required to reach temperatures needed to eliminate these bad bugs for long term storage canning. Could this same pressure cooking of suspect canned goods insure they are safe to eat, disregarding the taste factor?
    I’m asking for other thoughts, not making this as a recommendation. Anyone? I’d hate to be eating grub worms, only to find I could have had a meal of Dinty Moore’s from a swollen can.😊

    1. 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.

    2. 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…

  16. Friends I have been reading this series of posts with some alarm!

    I have very good insurance but even mine would cost over 100.00 for an ER visit from eating Bad Food. I can still BUY a LOT of replacement cans for less than that.

    When in Doubt THROW IT OUT.

    After SHTF and the ER is nearly impossible to get to why would you risk the health and lives of your families in eating potentially bad food??? There are easier ways to commit suicide friends.

    When in doubt THROW IT OUT.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

    1. Skeezix the pathogen can be killed by boiling BUT the Botulism that kills you is the Toxin the Bug makes and boiling will not fix that.

      When in doubt throw it out.

  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.

  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.

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