Is it Safe to Keep Canned Food Leftovers in the Can?

Is it safe to keep canned food leftovers in the can? How long can canned food leftovers last in the can? Many of us have been told ever since we were kids that storing canned food in the can is a bad idea, that we might get food poisoning and botulism. But few of us have actually taken the time to research this properly, we just went on thinking that once we’ve opened the can we should consume all its content at once or move the leftovers to a bowl before storing it in the fridge to avoid getting sick.

Even though those are not bad ideas, you should probably know that storing and consuming canned food leftovers kept in the tin won’t give you botulism and won’t increase the chances of food poisoning by itself.

Food Poisoning and Botulism from Canned Food Leftovers

Botulism is a disease caused by the neurotoxin called botulinum, produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. Foodborne botulism is most frequently caused by home-canned food or food that hasn’t been properly canned. Being an anaerobic bacteria, C. botulinum only develops in the absence of air. Therefore, it has absolutely nothing to do with storing canned leftovers in the can if the food has been properly treated against the bacteria before being canned.

Food poisoning is the result of different bacteria being ingested. Foodborne disease are commonly caused by E. coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, and Campylobacter enteritis. While bacteria won’t grow more rapidly in a refrigerated tin compared to other containers, it will eventually develop if the food is stored for an extended period of time.

The actual reason why it is recommended to avoid storing leftovers in the can is that the food could develop a ‘metallic’ taste.

What You Should Actually Avoid

Storing canned leftovers in an opened can for more than 24 hours. Never store canned food leftovers for too long. According to the FDA, if you’re using special can lids, the food can be stored for longer: maximum 2 days for fish and meat products, and up to one week for fruits and tomatoes.

Eating directly from the can. This will contaminate the contents with bacteria that will grow rapidly even if the can is stored in the refrigerator

Using a dirty can opener. Even though it might seem clean, you should always wash the tin opener using dish soap. Organic particles left on the metal are the perfect environment for bacteria development and they will get into the next can you open, increasing the risk of food poisoning.

Buying dented cans. Even though the botulism-causing bacteria doesn’t need oxygen to prosper, many other dangerous bacteria do. A can that has been hit is more likely to have its seal broken, which would allow the air and bacteria infiltrate and develop inside the can. This could lead to serious health issues so it might be the most important thing to avoid when it comes to canned food.

How to Stay Safe with Canned Food Leftovers

  • Buy only intact cans
  • Wash the top of the can before opening to avoid inserting bacteria inside
  • Manipulate the food using clean instruments
  • Use plastic lids to cover the cans
  • Always store the opened cans in the refrigerator
  • Consume the leftovers in maximum two days
  • Dispose of the contents if there is an unpleasant smell when you open the can or if it sprays when perforated

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