Empty Tomato Can Smells Fishy
October 22, 2012 5:38 PM   Subscribe

I opened a store bought can of tomatoes and poured it into a pot of chili. Now that the chili's simmering, the empty can smells like fish and I noticed a dent at the bottom near the seam.

The can seemed fine when I opened it; there were no bulges and no explosion of tomatoes but it just smells bad now that it's empty. I'm unlikely to play gastrointestinal roulette by eating the chili, but I am curious if you all think I'm being too cautious. Also, should I clean up the pot and utensils with more than just warm, soapy water? I cooked with a wooden spatula and a stainless steel pot.
posted by hoppytoad to Food & Drink (20 answers total)
Throw it out, play it safe
posted by 1inabillionmistake at 5:41 PM on October 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

It took me a long time to get this way of thinking but my current mantra is "when in doubt throw it away". I would think washing the pot and spoon will be fine. I am not a specialist in this type of thing!
posted by snowjoe at 5:41 PM on October 22, 2012

No matter how low the risk, the stakes are high.
And if it smells fishy, I wouldn't call it low risk. There's no fish in tomatoes.
Eat something else tonight.
Regular hot-water wash is fine. Water & soap don't kill bacteria -- they wash it away.
posted by LonnieK at 5:59 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I generally fall on the "eat it" side of metafilter, but in this case you gotta throw it out.
posted by procrastination at 6:00 PM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm also generally camping in the "eat it" camp, but not this time. Toss it.
posted by rtha at 6:09 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just throwing in the fact that when fish smells fishy it's starting to go bad and is past the point where you'd want to eat it. I'd let it go.
posted by theichibun at 6:22 PM on October 22, 2012

If you want to be over cautious, wash the pot and utensils in a water and bleach solution before rinsing and washing with regular soap and water.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:29 PM on October 22, 2012

Unless you have some deep and abiding attachment to the wooden spatula, discard it as well. Nasty things hide in wood and it sounds like the can was breached enough to allow air to foul the contents. The stainless steel pot will be fine; just use hot water with a dash of bleach to clean then rinse with cool, plain water.
posted by fireoyster at 6:30 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another person generally on the don't worry about it side, who would throw the whole thing out in this instance. Sorry, I know that's a bummer.

I would just wash the spoon and pot in warm soapy water.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:36 PM on October 22, 2012

Oh man! This would kill me. I hate throwing away food. But I would chuck it.
posted by two lights above the sea at 6:53 PM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Throw out the chili; the pot will be fine with just soap & water; if you have a dishwasher run the wooden spoon through that, the water's usually much hotter than you'd use handwashing, but you're probably safe with just handwashing that too.
posted by easily confused at 6:53 PM on October 22, 2012

I'm pretty sure you don't need to worry about botulism, because cooking the chili would prevent that from being an issue, but I wouldn't eat fishy smelling tomatoes because it just sounds really unappetizing.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:54 PM on October 22, 2012

Agreeing with others here - I'm usually on the "don't be a wimp, eat it" side of these debates, but fishy canned goods are scary. Toss and sanitize thoroughly.
posted by Rallon at 7:00 PM on October 22, 2012

Generally the acidity level of the tomatoes will prevent the bacteria that causes botulism from producing spores. Here is a fact sheet from our friends at the USDA. If the can is intact and the integrity has not been ruined (ie it is not leaking) then I would say it is probably ok to eat.

All that being said, I'm not sure why the can would smell fishy.
posted by catseatcheese at 7:48 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't eat it.
posted by limeonaire at 8:07 PM on October 22, 2012

Jettison the batch. Like catseatcheese said, the acidity of tomato products generally kills all, but I've bought hundreds of pounds of tomato products on sale and never smelled anything even slightly awry, even from a dented can. Coincidentally I was just telling somebody the other day how my roommate and I back in the mid 80's ran into my Uncle and Aunt at a supermarket. We were big sauce (gravy) makers back then and my Aunt and Uncle didn't quite understand why we were pushing a 150 lb cart of Progresso, Hunts, and other tomato products and nothing else. It was Shop-Rite's CanCan sale, and we were stocking up at a discount. Bad smelling canned Tomatoes = bad.
posted by Rafaelloello at 8:37 PM on October 22, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your help. Any lingering doubt I had about the state of the tomatoes disappeared with the unanimous responses. Chili is in the trash and the pot and spatula are sanitized.
posted by hoppytoad at 8:47 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just as a correction for any future readers - the risk from botulism isn't an infection, it's the toxin. So cooking doesn't make food save, since even though the heat will kill the botulism, the botulinum toxin would still be present in your food.
posted by Lady Li at 8:50 PM on October 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Botulinum is denatured at 80 C, so a dish that is as thoroughly cooked as chili should be perfectly safe. That said, I'd still toss it, if only for peace of mind.
posted by d. z. wang at 9:01 PM on October 22, 2012

I'm one of those quick to say, "It's fine! Eat it!". I have many things fermenting on my countertop. Intentionally.

I'd pitch it without a second thought, given what you've said.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:54 AM on October 24, 2012

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