Eating contents of dented cans

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Andyvon | 04:52 Sat 04th Aug 2007 | Food & Drink
7 Answers
Is it safe to eat the contents of dented cans such as soup and rice pudding?

I'm 45 now, but as a child I remember having it ingrained by my mother that you should never eat the contents of a dented can. The gloomy scenario was that people become ill and had even died from doing so. The lesson was that dented cans send the food bad and should always be thrown away. Obviously, that's true if a can is leaking and open to bacteria, but what about dented cans that are still sealed? Those doom-laden warnings still niggle whenever I find a dented tin in the cupboard. But surely if the food was bad then it would taste so and be obvious.

I suspect this is another relic of pre-war advice stemming from the more primitive technology of the time. Another was always to cook meat thoroughly, but that was due mainly to refrigeration of the time being quite primitive or non-existant.

Is it safe to eat from dented cans?


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In a word, no.
The whole problem stems from the fact that the actual can is coated in a very fine safe layer which is broken once there is a dint present. Once there is a break in this layer the more reactive metal underneath starts to react with the contents of the can.
"It is remotely possible to get botulism (the disease caused by the harmful bacteria, Clostridium botulinum) from consuming food from a very badly dented can, especially if the dent is on the side seam or the end seam of the can.
"The reason is that a bad dent, especially on the seams, can cause tiny pin holes in the metal of the can. If conditions were right, Clostridium botulinum and/or other harmful bacteria might be able to enter the can through the pin holes. Clostridium botulinum is a bacteria that is found everywhere, but it grows and makes its deadly toxin only when there is no air is present (we call this an anaerobic condition). It is possible that even with pin holes in a can which let in a tiny amount of air, an airless condition could be found in the food in that can. If this happened, Clostridium botulinum that got into the can could grow and make its toxin; the toxin is what causes the neurological disease called botulism. Botulism can be fatal, but usually is not if modern medical treatment is sought quickly.
"We say it is 'remotely possible' to get botulism from food from a severely dented can because all the right conditions have to be present for this to happen, and many times they are not. So, this foodborne illness would not happen very often, but it could happen sometimes; the challenge is that we don't know if the bacteria is present and if the condition are right in the can or not, so we have to assume the worst and discard severely dented cans of food.
"When in doubt, throw it out."
If, when you pierce the can with your tin-opener, there is a hiss as air enters the can, the contents will be OK.
(This sound may be masked when using the ringpull to open a can fitted with one, but there's nothing to stop you using a tin-opener on that type of can too, and listening for the hiss).
The question is, why do you have dented cans in the first place? Do you drop them?

Supermarkets sell dented cans at a reduced price, and I find it's a great way to save money. The only thing that's damaged is the packaging, while the food inside is exactly the same.
Question Author
Thanks everyone.

Although I don't buy cans that are damaged Koster I do occasionally find some dented when I get the shopping home. Obviously it's the way I pack the bags so I should be more careful. My question stems from what to do with the cans once I've found them - whether to keep them or throw them straight in the bin having only just bought them.

Thank you for the other answers which certainly make sense. I don't think I'll take any more chances eating things from dented cans as I have until now. I'll have to pack the bags more carefully I think.
I buy 4 packs of tinned toms and beanz. There is invariably a dent in at least one.

I use it anyway.

My family and I have not yet been struck down.
I'm just curious, but when you asked this question, weren't you directed to a choice of different postings with dented cans? Couldn't you take the time to look through them before posting your question? The same questions are being asked over and over and over .... it's becoming boring now.

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