How to check if dented canned food is safe to eat

Some people scourge grocery stores for canned food with small dents because they’re sometimes sold for a fraction of the original price, while there are those who don’t buy damaged cans to avoid botulism (food poisoning caused by bacteria).

But what do you do if the canned food that’s already in your pantry or stock room has some small dents? Do you throw them all away? (h/t to

Canned food and food safety

Preppers are always cautious, but they also know that it’s not right to waste resources. If you have canned food that’s dented, keep these tips in mind to check if they’re still safe to eat or if you need to dispose of them.

  1. Check if the can is bloated or bulging – Look at the can carefully: if it’s bloated or bulging in some places, it’s not safe to eat. Bloated or bulging cans may contain bacteria which produce gases that will push the can outward.
  2. Check the top and bottom of the can – When inspecting a dented can, push down on the top and bottom. If the can moves, or you hear a popping sound, the seal could be broken, and air could have gotten inside the can. Throw away dented and popped cans. However, if you don’t hear a noise when you push on a can, or it doesn’t move when you press down on the top/bottom, its seal is intact, and you can still eat the contents. (Related: Botulism can kill you — are you sure your preserved foods are safe? 8 signs they aren’t.)
  3. Check if the can is rusted – Rusted cans may be unsafe to eat. Rust can affect the integrity of the can. Rusted cans may contain air and bacteria, especially if you can’t brush off the rust from the can.
  4. Check if the food sprays out when the can is opened – When you open the dented can, does the food spray out? If it does, this means air has entered the can and built up the pressure. Discard the can and its contents, which may already be contaminated with bacteria. If a can has small dents, it will simply open like undamaged cans.

Additional food safety tips

Here are additional food safety tips to keep in mind when buying or prepping canned food:

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  • Cans with small dents along the side are probably safe to open.
  • Check your pantry/stock room for any dented cans. If they’re safe to eat, consume the contents first before opening other cans. Dents will weaken the can, and metal stress over time may cause a leak.
  • Don’t eat canned food that smells strange.
  • Don’t purchase cans that have dents on the top, bottom, or the seams. These areas are the weakest parts of the can and they are where the main seams of the can are located. Dents in these areas could weaken the integrity of the can.
  • If you don’t grow food that you’re preserving, buy from reputable sources to ensure food quality.
  • If you’re on a budget, it’s safe to purchase cans with very tiny dents, which are usually sold in clearance areas at a lower price.
  • Limit your use of additives, like sugar and salt, when canning food.
  • Regularly clean and sanitize your kitchen utensils and food preservation tools.

When in doubt, throw out canned food, even the ones that you’ve canned yourself. It’s better to be cautious than risk your safety by eating food that can make you sick.

Learn more about food safety and other prepping tips at

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