What Should You Do With a Can of Food That Is Bulging Out?

Aluminum can of sardines
A can of tuna on the counter. (Image: Jupiterimages/PHOTOS.com>>/Getty Images)

A bulging or swelling can indicates that the contents have been infected with Clostridium botulinum, a bacteria that is responsible for botulism. Bulging or swelling cans should never be opened, sniffed or consumed. Commercial and homemade products are all at risk for botulism, as are jarred products.

Unopened Cans

Bulging cans should not be opened or pierced. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise that you place the can in a plastic zipper bag, then seal and wrap another plastic bag around it. Tape the bags tightly and place in a non-recycling trash receptacle. Make sure the receptacle is out of reach of children or pets and that other trash does not pose a risk for piercing the can.

Leaking Can

Spilled or leaking cans must be disposed of with care. Always wear latex or rubber gloves. Contaminated liquids can seep through your skin, especially if you have cuts or open sores. The container holding the contaminated food should be thrown out if it is disposable, or the contents placed in a plastic bag if the container is not disposable. Wrap the container or bag in plastic, tape it and dispose of it in a non-recycling trash receptacle that is not within your home. Leaking, bulging cans should not be discarded in a sink, toilet or home receptacle. Minor contact with Clostridium botulinum and associated toxins can result in illness.

Spills and Surfaces

Contaminated countertops, dishes, pans and other surfaces need to be sterilized, and you should treat spills similarly. A 1-to-8 bleach to water solution is adequate for disinfection. Soak the contaminated surfaces with the bleach mixture for more than 15 minutes. Place five to 10 paper towels over spills while the bleach mixture soaks. Wipe up the spill and dispose of any liquid, gloves, rags or sponges that you used. Use soap and water to clean up the bleach. Bleach may damage some surfaces.

Hand Washing

Wash your hands after handling a bulging can, regardless of whether it was unopened, leaking or spilling. Effective hand washing is critical to ensure sanitation. Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least two minutes. Lather the soap, rinse and dry with a disposable towel.

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