Should Canned Food Be Heated?

Canned foods are a staple long term storage food for both preppers and homesteaders. This method of food storage allows you to store perishable foods for months and, in some cases, years that would otherwise spoil in days or weeks. Some people may wonder if this stored food can be eaten right out of the can or if the food should be heated first, especially if it has been stored for a long time.

All canned foods have been pre-cooked, so it is not necessary to heat canned food from a safety point of view. Heating up the food will enhance the flavor of the canned food and make it feel like a heartier meal, but this is not necessary. Canned foods can be eaten cold, right out of the can.

While canned foods are a long term food storage method that has been around for many years and has been deemed a safe method, there are some instances where you may not want to eat the canned food or at least treat it with some suspicion before you inspect it further.

Should You Heat Canned Food?

As we have already mentioned, heating your canned food is not a requirement but simply a question of taste. There are many canned foods that we eat cold right out of the can without thinking twice about it. Foods like baked beans, sweet corn, and even meats like spam are regularly consumed right out of the can without first being warmed up.

The main reason canned foods are heated before heating is to enhance the flavor and also to provide a warm hearty meal, especially if the weather is cold. If you are in a survival-type situation in cold weather, the warming of the food can be as valuable to you as the nutrition that the food offers.

Heating the food before eating it will help to raise your core body temperature, which is something that you need in cold weather survival.

Canning food for preserving has been around since the early 1800s, and much progress has been made in the technology and methods to make the process safer, and the food last longer.

There are, however, times when you should view canned foods with suspicion and review your decision to eat the food.

You may not want to eat canned food in the following circumstances.

  • If the can is bulging, it is normally an indication that the seal on the can has been compromised, and bacteria have gained access to the food inside. The bulging can be caused by the gas that the bacteria release as they feed on the food inside. This food would not be safe to eat, and you should rather discard the can.
  • A dented can is a possible indication that the seal has been damaged, which can give bacteria access to the food inside. Often the greater cause for concern would be if the dent is on one of the rims of the can or on the body of the can along the line where the can is sealed. A small dent on the main body of the can is not usually a cause for concern.
  • A puncture of the can is definitely a reason to discard the can, even if the hole is small. Bacteria are microscopic and can enter the can through the smallest of holes or fractures.
  • Rust on a can is an instance that requires further investigation. If the rust is fairly light and has not compromised the integrity of the can, then the food is more than likely good to eat. If, however, the rust is deep and is along any of the seams of the can, then it would be best not to eat the contents.

Eating canned food that has gone off can be extremely detrimental to your health. If you are in a survival-type situation, even getting symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea can cause complications of dehydrating you more quickly. Badly spoiled canned foods can result in botulism, which is potentially life-threatening.

Don’t Heat Canned Food in The Can

There is some controversy regarding the topic of whether you should heat canned food in a can or not. The reasoning behind the controversy is that canned foods are often heated in their cans as part of the canning process, so why would it be a problem to heat your food right in the can? The can seems like a perfect makeshift pot in a pinch.

Most modern cans that are used for storing food have a lining on the inside of the can that is intended to help seal the can securely. This lining is made from an epoxy or a type of plastic which in many cases, contains BPA.

Heating the can could cause this lining to release chemicals into the food, which can be toxic. While the toxicity does not affect you immediately, it has been proven to be a cause of diabetes and cancer in adults over the long term.

Some cans do not have this inner lining, and they would be safe to use to heat your food directly in the can. However, the fact that it does not have a lining is not often advertised on the can label, so there is no certainty of this fact.

Some canned food producers have changed the lining of their cans to a healthier enamel type material, which is made from plant-based oils, but this is a more expensive process, and many manufacturers will not adopt this method due to the additional cost.

The Right Way To Heat Canned Food

Since the option of heating the food directly in the can is one that should be avoided, what would be the best way to heat up the food?

The first option would be to use a pot of some sort, which would be intended for the purpose of heating up food. This is one reason a compact cooking kit is an important item to be included in your outdoor kit.

If you find yourself outdoors in the position of not having access to a cooking pot, you can try to make a pot out of natural materials you have available, but you need to be sure of your bushcraft skills in this area since you run the risk of losing your food should the pot fail.

Survival pots can be fashioned from birch bark, pieces of dry wood hollowed out, or even coconut shells if you find yourself in a tropical location. These bowls cannot be used directly over the flame of your fire but can be heated by placing them on hot rocks adjacent to the fire.

Another alternative is to heat some smaller rocks in your fire and then place the hot rocks in the food inside the makeshift bowl to heat the food. Obviously, the rocks should be cleaned and washed before heating them to put in your food.

As a last resort, if you cannot make another plan, then heating the food in the can may be your only option. If you resort to this measure, open the can before you heat it by the fire. Sealed cans can explode due to the pressure build-up from the heat and steam created in the can.


It is perfectly acceptable to eat canned food cold, directly from the can. Canned food can be rather unpalatable when it is cold, and you may want a warm meal because of a cold environment.

Heating the canned food is possible and will make the food much tastier, and it will feel like a more satisfying meal as it warms your stomach.

As far as possible, you should avoid heating the food in the can since the inner lining of the can could release toxic chemicals into the food when heated. Some cans are made without this lining, and these cans are safe to heat food in, but it is not always obvious by the label or examining the tin whether this lining is present or not.

The only way to tell is if the manufacturer expressly states on the tin that the can is BPA free and safe for heating the food. Your first option should rather be to be prepared and carry a small camp pot or cooking set with you when you are outdoors.

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