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Steps to Ensure the Safety of Foods in Metal Cans

April 09, 2001|PHIL LEMPERT

Question: I've always wondered about metal cans. Is the food in them as healthy as in other types of packaging? And how long can they be safely stored?

--ROD TIETZ

Answer: Canned fruits and vegetables are preserved using natural heat and, therefore, use no preservatives. Otherwise, there are no practical differences between the nutritional values of fresh, frozen or canned foods. Read the ingredient labels carefully, as some canned foods add sodium or sugar to their recipe to enhance the flavor of the foods (not for preservation). Inspect the can for dents, bulges at the top or bottom and for leaks. Don't buy the product if you see any irregularities because it may indicate spoilage. If after opening the can the inside has a foul odor or appears highly discolored, don't eat the product. Canned foods should be stored in a cool, dark place to maximize their shelf life. High-acid foods such as tomatoes, grapefruit and pineapple have a recommended unopened shelf life of 12 to 18 months. Lower acid foods, such as meats and most vegetables, could last from two to three years. Another concern of consumers is the possibility of lead contamination from canned foods. In the United States, lead used as solder to seal cans was banned by the Food and Drug Administration in 1991. The FDA estimates, however, that up to 10% of imported canned foods may still be packaged in lead-soldered cans. My recommendation is to write the date of purchase for all canned foods on the top with a broad marker. It's easy to forget just how long something has been in your cupboard.

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Phil Lempert is the food correspondent for NBC's "Today" show. He welcomes questions about healthful food shopping but regrets that he cannot respond to every query. He can be reached by e-mail at plempert@aol.com. or by writing Before You Bite, Los Angeles Times' Health section, 202 W. First St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.

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