L.C. David is a mother, writer, and English teacher at a state university.
While shopping for yourself or your pet, you may spot canned goods on the shelves that have been damaged. They may have dents where they have been dropped in the store or during the shipping process.
Is it still safe to eat the food that's contained within these cans? The answer is sometimes yes—and sometimes no.
Dos and Don'ts of Dented Cans
|Do Consume||Don't Consume|
Rust or bulges
Punctures, holes, or leaks
Food looks and smells okay once opened
If you have any doubts
How Do Cans Get Dented in the First Place?
The metal used to make cans is usually aluminum, which is also what is used to make aluminum foil wrap.
Aluminum is very strong but is also pliable. These two qualities make it perfect for sealed storage that isn't too difficult to open. But because of its pliable properties (think about all the ways you can use aluminum foil!) it can also easily dent when dropped.
Dents can happen anywhere during the process from the factory, to shipping, to the store where you purchase your canned goods.
Any time a can is dropped or faces pressure, it becomes susceptible to dents.
Safe Dents vs. Dangerous Dents
It inevitably happens. The last can of that ingredient you need is slightly dented. The store manager indicates that they are not expecting any more until next week.
Is it safe to buy the dented can or should you go look for your ingredient somewhere else?
How to Inspect the Can at the Store
- Safe dents: If the can is only slightly dented, such as the damage that might occur if it was dropped by another shopper, you are probably safe to consider purchasing it.
- Dangerous dents: If you spot any signs of food leakage, rust, visible holes, or bulges, do not purchase or consume. If any of these issues are evident you should alert the store manager so they can remove the product from the shelf.
How to Inspect the Can at Home
- Check for leaks: Immerse the can under water and watch for any air bubbles or food leakage.
- Examine the food: Once you open the can, carefully inspect the food inside. Does it smell and look like you expected? Is there anything suspicious?
- If in doubt, throw it out: If you have any doubts about a food product, it is safer to throw it out rather than consume it.
What if a Can Is Bulging?
If you find a can in the store or in your pantry that has bulges, do not consume that product.
Bulges in a can are an indication of bacteria within the food product. The can should be discarded or returned to the store, as it was likely produced in a non-sterile environment and is not safe to consume.
What Causes Bulges in Cans?
The simple answer is bacteria. When food goes bad, bacteria, which is a living organism, reproduces within the sealed container. As the bacteria multiply, they release gasses that eventually build up pressure in the can, causing the pliable aluminum to bulge out due to lack of space.
Heat is one way that canneries kill bacteria during the canning process. If this process is not done properly then the food may become contaminated. The same problem can occur in home canning as well, allowing enough pressure to build up to break the lid seal—sometimes causing the lid to pop off.
Dented Pet Food Cans
What should you do if a can of cat or dog food is dented?
The same rules apply to pet food as to other canned foods designed for people. Check for holes, punctures, and any leaks. When you open the food, make sure it looks like it normally does. Pet food can sometimes be harder to examine since the meat product is often a bit smelly to the human nose (but smells yummy to your pet).
If you are in doubt, or if you see leaks or bulges, do not feed the food to your pets. Animals can also get sick from contaminated or rotten food, and it is best not to take the chance.
Getting Deals on Dented Cans
If you find a dented can in your grocery store, it may be worth talking to a customer service representative or manager and see if they will offer you a discount. Many times customers, with good reason, will avoid dented cans so the store may be glad to get it off of their hands.
Salvage or Discount Grocery Stores
Salvage stores, also called discount or outlet grocery stores, often sell slightly (or very) dented cans at a reduced price. These grocers have a special license to sell damaged or out-of-date food and often check the products themselves before selling them.
These stores also offer opportunities to stock up on damaged items or grocery items that are close to expiration. If you know what you are looking for, you can spend just pennies on the dollar for groceries your family regularly uses.
To find a salvage grocer in your area, simply search online for "salvage grocer" (or "discount grocery store") and your city and state.
The bottom line is that if you have any doubts about the canned product, you should skip purchasing it or return it to the store, Always remember to check for other issues such as expiration dates as well as any damage.
As long as the damage is cosmetic and there are no leaks, the food is most likely safe to consume.
- Is It Safe to Use Food From Dented Cans? | AskUSDA
The U.S. Department of Agriculture answers your questions.
- Dented cans — no deal or no problem? | Scienceline
Botulism contamination is a horrifying possibility, but the risk may be nothing to fuss over.
- Home-Canned Foods | Botulism | CDC
Home-canned vegetables are the most common cause of botulism outbreaks in the United States.
Kevin W from Texas on January 11, 2014:
This was a very interesting hub. Most grocery stores have a bin/or special section for damaged goods at a discount. I've never bought them personally, not in fear of them being bad, but just didn't want to sort through the different cans. Thumbs up on your hub LCDWriter.
Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on January 11, 2014:
This is really an interesting and informative hub! I have wondered about this many times. I always put the dented can back when I see there is a dent and if it is the last one of its kind, I usually just leave it. But, your suggestions are good ones. Thanks for sharing with us.
ologsinquito from USA on January 11, 2014:
I've wondered if dented cans are safe to eat. Now I know. I'm pinning this to my Things You Really Need to Know board.
L C David (author) from Florida on August 25, 2013:
Another great tip DzyMsLizzy! If I have any doubt I just toss it and get a new can or an alternative. Better safe than sorry. Food poisoning is no fun.
Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on August 25, 2013:
Excellent points! Well done article.
Another sure-fire clue is "exploding" contents. Sometimes a food has spoiled in the can, but the can is not (yet) bulging or leaking. However, if when you apply the can opener, the liquid squirts out of the can apparently under pressure, then discard that food at once, and clean your can opener. (We're not talking about the little 'pop' of the air getting in, and some minor spillage, here, but a real squirt of pressurized liquid.)
I had that happen to me recently--I was opening a can of mandarin orange segments, and when the can opener punctured the lid, liquid spurted about 2 feet across the room! Into the trash it went!