Are Dented Cans Safe To Eat From?

As part of our food storage we’ve been cleaning off the racks of dented canned food items whenever we find them on clearance. I have a whole shelf stacked full of dented cans.

Well, today my husband called me worried ’cause he heard somebody say that dented cans are dangerous. This raises some serious safety concerns. On the other hand, throwing way a number of cans from the pantry means you’d have to spend extra to get more food.

dented can of peas
dented can of peas

So are dented cans dangerous?

Yes and no, some dented cans can be dangerous but the majority of them are not. Dented cans are safe if the dents are small, and don’t occur on the seal or the lid.

Bad Signs of a Dented Can

When you buy canned goods at the store, you can expect that the contents will be fresh and safe to eat as soon as you open them, even many months later.

However, if the can, lid or seal is damaged, it could create an opportunity for bacteria to flourish or other contamination of food. In addition, a damaged will likely allow oxygen to enter, which can cause the food to spoil.

Always inspect canned food before you buy them, and check your own supply of canned goods for the following defects:

  • ❌ The most obvious way to tell if a can of food has spoiled is by pushing on the top and bottom of the can. If the top or the bottom of the can moves, or pops, the seal has been broken and it is not safe to eat.
  • ❌ When examining canned food for signs of spoilage, one of the first things to look for is damage to the can itself. If the dent is a sharp crease, it’s not safe. Dents, bends, or other deformities can indicate that the can has been damaged, potentially breaching a seal and, however slightly, allowing contamination. Dents that are shallow enough where you cannot lay your pinky finger in them are usually no worry unless they are on the lid or rim.
  • ❌ If the can is bulging in any way, discard it. This is a sign that dangerous bacteria has been growing inside of the can, and the gases it is giving off is causing the can to swell. DO NOT open a can which is bulging. Breathing the gases inside is toxic.
  • ❌ If there is rust on the can it probably isn’t safe to eat out of. Rusty patches can indicate that the can has been exposed to excess moisture or humidity and is no longer safe to eat from.
  • ❌ If you notice any dark spots or discoloration on the surface of your cans, it is best to discard them immediately, and replace them with fresh supplies. In this way, rusty patches on canned goods can serve as an important indicator of compromised food quality and safety.
  • ❌ When buying dented cans avoid the ones with dents along the seam of the top or bottom of the can. It is important to inspect the cans for dents to the rim or popped buttons on lids. These defects can indicate that the food inside the can may no longer be safe to eat. Dents in the rim of a can may cause small holes that allow air and bacteria to enter the food. Once bacteria are present, they can multiply quickly, leading to food poisoning.
  • ❌ If when you open the can it sprays out, spurts, or somewhat explodes, this is a bad sign.
  • ❌ And most obviously, if it’s leaking, toss it. One of the most common indicators of a compromised can is seeping or oil spots. This can happen if the can is damaged or if the seal around the lid or rim is no longer airtight. If you see seeping or oil spots on a can, it’s best to just discard it, as there is a major risk of contamination. By taking these precautions, you can help to ensure that your food is safe to eat.

The downside to buying dented cans is that even though they are most likely safe when you buy them, over time the cans may be weakened and the above signs will begin showing up. So, the best thing to do is use dented cans right away, or open them up and re-can the contents.

I’m so glad to have learned what the danger signs are to watch out for. Unfortunately, it looks like several of the cans we bought are not going to be safe to eat. Better safe than sorry, right? From now on, I think I’ll avoid the dented can section all together.

last update 01/05/2022

13 thoughts on “Are Dented Cans Safe To Eat From?”

  1. If you submerge the cans under water in a bowl and no bubbles come up…can one assume that the seal has not been broken and is safe to consume? Thank you.

  2. Like Treva, I worked at a foodbank and many of the canned goods we received were dented cans from stores. Unless they had the signs exhibited by Kendra in the original post they were good to use.

    Also I volunteer for our local CERT group and a group of Mormons gave a talk on food safety. They are kings of canned goods if you didn’t know. She opened a can of 30 year old peaches. They were a bit mushy and slightly brown but tasted fine and were not harmful. She told us the expiration date is used to verify the nutritional label is 100% accurate and after that the nutrition begins to decline. There is no reason to toss expired cans or jars of food if there is no visible signs of damage. Stick with the science.

  3. Yes, most canned things do last well past the due date, but it does make a difference how they are stored, too. It’s best to store them in a cooler, dark area, same as home-canned foods.

  4. Kendra, in other countries as well there are dates on cans (France, Canada, Brazil being the ones I lived in). Actually Brazil has a very strict eat before policy.

    I am sure that for some stuff it is ok, but I would not know which one.

  5. Ive bought dented cans as long as they are only slightly dented at a salvage grocer where I live. I havent been there in several months, just because its not conviently located to me. They also had a special section of the store where you could buy out of date can, when I say out of date, I mean OUT OF DATE- like by 2 or 3 years even. I never bought out of date items, thats where I am particular. I always wondered, where the heck did they get cans so old? I saw a website, I dont remember, it may have even been a usda site saying that some foods are safe very much past their due dates, You wouldent belive it, I was shocked when I saw it. But thats where I sort of draw the line. I like stuff in good date.

    • Sandra,

      Actually, my husband was telling me the other day that the US is the only country which requires dates on our canned goods. That the food will actually stay good for many, many years. As long as the can is not bloated or rusty, the food is good. I haven’t looked into this, but I can believe it. I’m sure there’s money in it for somebody regulating dates on our canned goods.

  6. ONe idea is if you feel it is a “safe” dent, open the can and freeze the contents. Of course, you need a freeze to dot his. I was trained the same as Treva about how to tell if you should use the dented can. Barbara

  7. I used to work at a food bank. When we trained volunteers we had them keep cans that had “brush dents” in them. These are dents are more smooth, like the concave side of the spoon. “Crush dents” are where the metal actually creases (almost like in your photo — though I would have to actually feel the can to be sure); these have a higher rate of getting dangerous bacteria b/c pinpoint holes can form in the crease. And then, like you stated, we threw away anything that couldn’t be opened b/c the rim was badly damaged and anything bulging or with rust on it.

  8. Kendra,

    You may wish to do a bit more checking around. It has come to my attention that most cans are lined with BPA/Lead. Allegedly this is “not” leaching in to the food contained with in the cans. There are several schools of thought though. Better safe than sorry.



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