Canned foods sometimes get a bad rap for being less healthy or lower quality than fresh or frozen foods. And, sure, sometimes that is true. But canned goods are also a great thing to keep on hand for everything from your power outage kit to your easiest-dinner-possible kit, because if you've got a can of beans, you can make an easy, tasty and fast meal. There's one time that you shouldn't go for canned food, though, and that's when you've got a dented can.
But wait, because not all dented cans are dented equally. You'll want to take a closer look at that can, because the food inside might be okay to eat.
Is food from dented cans safe to eat?
If you find a dented can at the grocery store or in your kitchen cabinet, here's how to tell if it's okay to eat. The Food Safety and Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) says this:
If a can containing food has a small dent, but is otherwise in good shape, the food should be safe to eat. Discard deeply dented cans. A deep dent is one that you can lay your finger into. Deep dents often have sharp points. A sharp dent on either the top or side seam can damage the seam and allow bacteria to enter the can. Discard any can with a deep dent on any seam.
Basically, minor dents should be okay. But if you can fit your finger into the dent, or if the dent is on the seam of the can, there's a risk of foodborne illness. The canning process heats the food to destroy microorganisms that can cause food poisoning, and then removes all the air as a way to prevent spoilage and extend the shelf life. A small dent shouldn't allow air into the can, but if the seam of the can is dented enough to allow air into the can, the food can go bad.
There is a risk of botulism from the bacteria clostridium botulinum with canning some kinds of low-acid foods, like green beans and corn, so be especially mindful of dented cans for these kinds of vegetables. Commercial canning processes are designed to protect public health, so the risk is mostly from home canning where the food is not pressure-canned. And if a can you've bought from the grocery store hisses loudly when you open it, or if it spurts liquid or smells bad, then you should definitely toss the can.
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