Ask Lifehacker: Can You Store Open Tins in the Fridge?

Ask Lifehacker: Can You Store Open Tins in the Fridge?
Image: Getty

I saw an open tin of stuffed vine leaves in our office fridge one day and immediately freaked out. I’d always been told that you should never leave food in an opened tin as it risks food poisoning — and I believed that. But then I realised I’d never bothered to question why this rule applied. Time to investigate.

After a bit of digging, the answer is pretty clear. Storing food in the fridge in an opened tin is a bad idea. But while you might expect that to be because of botulism (a rare but potentially fatal form of food poisoning), that’s not the main concern here. One major issue with storing open tins in the fridge is that with more acidic foods such as fruit juices and tomatoes, tin and iron can leak into the food, which makes it taste awful and can impact your health.

The CSIRO explains:

Once cans are opened some foods, especially fruit, fruit juices, and tomato products, should be placed in a clean plastic or glass container, covered and stored in the refrigerator. When these foods are stored in the opened metal can, tin and iron will dissolve from the can walls and the food may develop a metallic taste. Food containing high concentrations of tin can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, abdominal bloating, fever or headache.

These symptoms pass quickly and there seem to be no long term effects of high tin exposure. However, repackaging food once a can is opened is a good practice to adopt for all foods packaged in metal cans.

That last tip from the CSIRO points to a bigger issue at play — once a tin is opened and exposed to air, food can become dry, absorb other flavours or otherwise turn nasty. That won’t make it poisonous, but it can make it unpleasant to eat. And nobody wants that.

If you have those plastic lids which reseal tins, you can potentially avoid that problem, but I’ve never used them for anything other than cat food, personally.

Keep it simple: if you don’t use the whole tin, transfer the contents to a resealable container. And as an added bonus tip: if you go with glass containers, they don’t absorb odours or colour from food like plastic containers do.

This story has been updated since its original publication.


  • If you freaked out over a tin can in the fridge, wait till you open your front door and go outside.

    Is covering the tin opening with cling wrap a decent enough solution?

  • Wow! That is freaky. I’d be more worried that someone at my work is eating hors d’oeuvres at work.
    What next?
    Some devilled eggs, pigs in a blanket? Maybe some prawns in a shot glass? Asparagus wrapped in bacon with a toothpick in it? 🙂

  • Actually- this is absolutley true – I grew up next to an (as a kid) an “old man”. He was always on his own. I always remembered he lived off canned food. I used to ask him, i remember vividly his shopping bags . cans of beans, sardines, spag – everything possible to eat in tins. Some years later I visited home to find my neibour blind, with a stick. Totally. I remember asking him about it – I can recall the techicalities but it had something to do with his diet of tinned food and the fridge. As he told me himself, it was genuine. It was to me no longer “one if those myths”- It was sobering back then, and even today, I always extract contents the contents into a clean airtight container.

    • I would call ‘urban myth’ on this one. It’s most probably the ‘contents’ of what he was eating rather the fact that it’s opened cans in the fridge.

    • It is possible to permanently lose vision from lead poisoning. I do not know how long ago this occurred, but in the olden days, apparently there were issues with lead leaching into the food from the cans.

    • If he was an “old man” are you sure he wasn’t just suffering age related problems? Eyesight fades, health problems get worse just because getting old sucks. And even if it was food related, it’s more likely to be because of poor diet not “tin poisoning”. If you eat a diet that’s low in veges you’re not getting certain vitamins you’d need.

      As for the article, I can’t imagine much tin leeching into the food if you’re doing like the majority of people. ie: storing the leftovers for a day or two before use. Maybe if you were storing them for a month or more I could see it being problematic.

      I would say though, if you’re talking about a work fridge, courtesy is paramount since it’s a shared resource. Putting leftovers in am airtight, sealed container so co-workers aren’t forced to smell your horrible taste in food is only right.

  • “A certain amount of searching later,” – which obviously didn’t involve a visit to Wikipedia
    ” and the answer is pretty clear.” – despite factual errors and further promoting ridiculous myths

    Research fail.

  • Yeah this is totally wrong. Tin, unlike the old days (where they were just tin), are lined with plastic and do not dissolve into food once opened.

    The only area that could oxidise would the tiny tear area on the top of the can.. which doesn’t touch the food.

    Additionally these plastic do not leak BPA contrary to popular belief and has been extensively covered by Skeptoid (

    • So who do you work for Mike, a PR firm hired by one of the big food produers I’m assuming., BPA is being banned in children’s products in most countries. Canada has banned it completely in everything. I think I would trust the scientists in a country like Canada who seems to actually care more about it’s citizens than sucking up to Big Business than some guy at who’s running his website to make money.

      • 1) Plastics tend to be flexible (hence the name ‘plastic’ which essentially means ‘pliable’). Ordinary denting shouldn’t damage the coating at all.

        2) As your link suggests, the corrosion can occur at an accelerated rate – but only on the area exposed and only with certain materials. A ‘tiny break in the barrier’ would cause a correspondingly tiny increase in exposure.

    • Did you even read what he said before you named called and tried to make yourself feel superior. For it is you that looks like an idiot for not reading the post correctly.

  • I remember doing that when i was a kid, i loved baked bean (in tomato sauce) from a can in my jaffles, if i left it a day it was fine but too long and it did have a metal taste and you could see the oxidation on the can. Granted i don’t recall having that problem in the last 15 years but it doesnt mean that cans are not immune.

    But of course the drying out is still an issue worth preventing.

  • This is a load of rubbish. Tins aren’t even made of tin any more, they’re made of aluminium and coated to prevent contamination. Maybe if you’re talking about cans from the 1930’s there might be an issue but if that’s the case I’d be more worried about the contents than the container.

  • First of all modern day “tin” cans have no “tin” in them. They are typically made of aluminum or plate steel. They are also coated with a plastic lining that insulates the food from the metal can. According to the USDA it is perfectly safe to store food in an open can for a couple of days. After that, depending on the type of food, the food begins to degrade as it would in any other type of container in the fridge. The best purchase I have ever made was for a “side cut” can opener that is just the cat’s meow. It’s a Hamilton Beach 76606Z Smooth Touch Can Opener, Black and Chrome that I bought for $26.93. If you buy this can opener you will never ever buy a standard one again. The lid not only comes off with no-finger-cut smooth edges but then serves as a tight lid for the top of the can.

  • Most cans these days are made of aluminum, at least in America anyway, because it is much cheaper and more accessible than tin is. Steel is probably second most common.

  • Actually, only most beverage cans are made of aluminum; soup and tuna cans and such are made of steel. Regarding the whole ‘dented or bulged’ thing, in extreme cases if food spoils in the can, it can ferment and cause gasses that burst the seams-I’ve seen it, but its much different than a dented can, which I have no problem with buying at the market for half price. Having said all that, I’m old school and still have little spats with my wife if I find a half can of tuna in the fridge, cause I was raised that way and old thought processes die hard.

  • This article doesn’t make any sense. “Acid” foods can stay in a can for *YEARS*. But taking the lid
    off causes that exact same high-acid food to quickly damage the can… and destroy the food.

    > If you have those plastic lids which reseal tins, that problem can be avoided,

    Why in world would a plastic lid (again) make the high-acid food… not harm the can?

  • The best purchase I’ve ever made was probably Netflix. Then again without a computer I couldn’t watch Netflix so that was a pretty good deal too. Without a computer I couldn’t read this blog post for that matter, and I suppose the lamp to see the keyboard was a damn good purchase too. Then there’s the car I bought to drive down to Future shop and buy the computer. And the garage on my house to park the car in…

    But hell if them can openers are that good I might just consider selling it all. Wonder how many I could buy if I sold my house? …

    Thanks for the recommendation.

  • The United States Department of Agriculture says it’s safe to refrigerate canned foods manufactured in the United States directly in the can.

    That said, the USDA still doesn’t advise it. The reason is that canned foods will better retain their flavor and appearance if you transfer them to glass or plastic storage containers after opening.

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