Is it safe to use food from dented cans?
If a can containing food has a small dent, but is otherwise in good shape, the food should be safe to eat. Discard deeply dented cans. A deep dent is one that you can lay your finger into. Deep dents often have sharp points. A sharp dent on either the top or side seam can damage the seam and allow bacteria to enter the can. Discard any can with a deep dent on any seam.
Is it safe to use food from rusted cans?
Discard heavily rusted cans. Cans that are heavily rusted can have tiny holes in them, allowing bacteria to enter. Surface rust that you can remove by rubbing with your finger or a paper towel is not serious. You can keep these canned foods. If you open the cans and there is any rust inside, do not eat the food. Rust (oxidized iron) is not safe to eat.
How can you tell if food is safe after a power outage?
Keep the freezer door closed to keep cold air inside. Don't open the door any more than necessary. A full freezer will stay at safe temperatures about 2 days; a half-full freezer about 1 day. If your freezer is not full, group packages so they form an "igloo" to protect each other. If you think the power will be out for several days, try to find some dry ice. Keep dry ice wrapped and do not touch it with your bare hands. Use cubed ice or block ice in the refrigerator.
Even if food has started to thaw, foods can be safely kept in the freezer. The foods in your freezer that partially or completely thaw before power is restored may be safely refrozen if they still contain ice crystals or are 40°F or below. You will have to evaluate each item separately. When in doubt, throw it out.
In general, refrigerated items should be safe up to 4 hours. Keep the door closed as much as possible. Discard any perishable foods (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers) that have been above 40°F for 2 hours or more. Also discard any other food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture, or feels warm to the touch. More detailed information, along with a chart that tells which foods may be saved and which should be thrown out, may be found in Keeping Your Food Safe During Emergencies.
Are foods safe to eat after the date passes?
A food that has passed its "Best if Used By" date, for example, doesn't necessarily mean that a food has gone bad or is unsafe. Manufacturers apply date labels at their own discretion and for a variety of reasons.* The most common is to inform consumers and retailers of the date to which they can expect the food to retain its best quality and flavor.
Regularly check foods in your kitchen cabinets or pantry that are past their "Best if Used By" date to determine if the quality is sufficient for use. If the products have changed noticeably in color, consistency or texture, avoid eating them. Here are resources available to help determine how long to keep foods in your pantry, refrigerator or freezer:
*The only food required by federal law to include a date is infant formula. Do not buy or use infant formula after its "Use-By" date.
Confused by Date Labels on Packaged Foods? U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Food Product Dating, Food Safety and Inspection Service, (FSIS) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Is it safe to use food from dented cans? United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Is it safe to use rusted canned foods?, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Keep Your Food Safe During Emergencies: Power Outages, Floods and Fires, Food Safety and Inspection Service, (FSIS) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Surplus, Salvaged and Donated Foods, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
This article was originally written by Alice Henneman. It was reviewed and updated in 2022.