The Dangerous Reason You Shouldn’t Eat from a Dented Can

Updated: Nov. 14, 2022

You may be tempted to avoid the dent in your can of beans, but you may want to think twice for the sake of your health.

Damaged metal can with vegetables on a wooden table. Canned vegetables in a can. Dark background.Piotr Wytrazek/Shutterstock

Is it safe to eat food from dented cans?

You may think you know how to avoid getting sick from your food. You know why it’s a bad idea to follow the five-second rule when you drop food on the ground and which foods never to reheat in a microwave. But did you know you could be putting yourself at risk for food poisoning by eating food from dented cans?

A little background: when food is canned, it’s heated to destroy dangerous bacterias and molds and deactivates the enzymes which break down the nutrients of the food as it ages, according to McGill University. Thus, canning the food prevents it from going bad and from being contaminated by mold and bacteria.

Check the dent

Does this mean you should avoid the dented cans on the discount shelf of the grocery store? It really depends on the severity of the dent, according to Suki Hertz, an associate professor of nutrition and food safety for the Culinary Institute of America. Minor dents that aren’t on the seam of the metal should be fine. But if there’s a dent on the seam, you’re better off leaving the dented can alone.

“If it’s just a minor dent somewhere else on the can, it’s not going to affect the food inside,” Hertz says. “I wouldn’t be panicking. But if you have a dent and dent is on the seam, you’ve broken the anaerobic condition of the can. Now pathogens can get in. It could cause a foodborne illness.”

Not only can dents on the seam break the metal of the can and expose food inside to outside pathogens, but deep dents are cause for concern as well. The United States Department of Agriculture defines a deep dent as any dent which you can lay your finger into when examining the can. Often these dents have sharp points.

Dented cans and food poisoning

The USDA says that while rare, dented cans can lead to botulism which is a deadly form of food poisoning that attacks the nervous system. Symptoms include double vision, droopy eyelids, trouble swallowing and difficulty breathing. Leaking and bulging cans can also be signs of expired canned food.

Despite its rarity, people in the food industry take the risk of botulism very seriously: in places like New York City, restaurants can actually lose points during an inspection if they have dented cans. Avoiding dented cans is even one of the things food safety experts do to prevent food poisoning which means it’s something to consider next time you shop for food.