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Is Eating Canned Foods Safe?

March 3rd, 2014 Healthy Living

Canned items can make our lives much more convenient when making food in a hurry, but many wonder, "Is eating canned foods safe?" There are numerous health concerns about the effects of canned foods. Ultimately, they are safe as long as they are stored in the right conditions. However, for the benefit of your personal health, be sure that you know what can cause them to become hazardous.

Avoid canned food storage in extreme temperatures
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, canned foods should never be kept in areas prone to high or low temperature extremes. When these items are exposed to temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, they are put at greater risk of spoilage. Even prolonged storage at temperatures above 75 degrees can lead to nutrient loss, as noted by the University of Minnesota. It is advisable to keep canned foods in cool, dry locations where temperatures stay within the range of 50 to 70 degrees.

Be aware of the storage life of canned items
The amount of time that canned goods may be safely stored depends on the acidity of the food. The USDA recommends that high-acid foods like tomatoes and fruit be stored for no longer than 18 months. Foods with lower acidity, such as vegetables, can be stored for longer time periods, ranging from 2 to 5 years. Canned meat and poultry can also be kept for this range of time, but it is especially important to make sure that the containers for these items are in good condition and have never been exposed to extreme temperatures.

Check to see if canned foods are "shelf stable"
"Shelf stable" is a term used to describe food items that may be stored at room temperature. Many canned good are shelf stable, but others like canned ham and seafood must be kept refrigerated. Some perishable foods must be heated or dried to be made shelf stable, as these processes are necessary to ensure that dangerous microorganisms are eliminated.

Know what should always be avoided
If food cans become heavily rusted, they should immediately be thrown away. The USDA states that rusted cans can have tiny holes in them, which could allow the entrance of harmful bacteria. Before you eat canned foods, check the inside of the container for rust - the presence of rust indicates that the food is not safe to eat and should be discarded.

Cans with deep dents should also be thrown away, as these dents can damage the seam of the can, enabling harmful bacteria to enter and spoil the food. If a can freezes, it can potentially pose health problems as well. Frozen cans swell due to the expansion of food inside of it, but a swollen container could also be a sign of contamination with spoilage-causing organisms. To prevent the risk of food poisoning, all swollen cans should be thrown away.

One danger that needs to be taken particularly seriously is Clostridium botulinum. The USDA identifies this as a rare but extremely toxic chemical that could potentially affect canned foods. Leaking, badly dented containers, foul odors, cracked jars, loose lids and cans that spurt liquid upon opening are all warnings of "botulism" - never eat foods from cans with any of these signs.

Safety precautions to follow
Eating canned foods is safe as long as you keep them stored safely. Try to rotate your canned items so that the oldest ones are eaten first. Pay attention to the storage life of each canned good and store it according to directions listed on the can. Remember that you can never be too cautious about eating canned foods, so take all measures necessary to protect your health.