How not to give your friends food poisoning: Part 1: Maybe the beans just needed some air… Botulism is bad – what to check for when using canned goods

So you’re running a little low on cash. Alright, maybe you aren’t, but I sure am, and canned goods are a cheap, usually healthy option to get me the through the week. But how do you know what is safe to to eat? Will that dent on the side kill you? Or just save you a few pennies?

The concern with dented cans is Botulism. Botulism is a spore-forming bacteria that forms in oxygen-free environments with low acidity and releases toxins that cause causes blurred vision, dilated pupils, droopy eyelids, sore mouth and throat, muscle weakness, difficulty swallowing, difficulty breathing, and major muscle weakeness and paralysis. Sympotms usually develop within 12-36 hours after consuming contaminated food. Thanks to improvements in canning processes, botulism poisoning is rare, but it can be life-threatening.

What should you look for?

  • Cans with small dents along the side are generally still safe; however, deep dents, especially near the seams of the can, should always be avoided.
  • Always stay away from cans that are leaking or bulging – these are clear signs that the seals have been broken and botulism contamination is likely.
  • If a can explodes when you open it, throw it out immediately and carefully clean up the mess with soap and water.

If you suspect botulism poisoning, go to your local emergency room immediately.

When it comes to swollen or broken cans the rule is always when in doubt, throw it out.

Bonus Tip: Not going to use the whole can? Store opened canned goods in a sealed plastic container. According to the Food Standards Agency, “when a can has been opened and the food is open to the air, the tin may transfer more quickly to the can’s contents.”