Will a bulging can of Quebec Maple Syrup attempt to kill me?
March 10, 2014 5:19 AM   Subscribe

A year and a half ago my Canadian friend brought me a can of maple syrup from Quebec, which is unavailable in the place where I live. When I took it out today I saw that the unopened metal can is bulging at both ends. Can the syrup be saved?

Cans don't bulge by themselves. Something biological is creating enough gas in there to puff out the metal can. But after googling "bulging can of maple syrup" I found forums full of argumentative Northern syrup experts claiming that botulism bacteria cannot grow in maple syrup due to the high sugar content.

I really don't want to toss my precious syrup out, but I also don't want to fall victim to a deadly neurotoxin. While maple syrup can develop mold, most people say "if it still tastes good, eat it." However, if I can't taste it safely, how can i know if it is actually just mold? I have not opened the can yet. Can I reboil or microwave the contents safely into submission? Or should I accept my sweet defeat and toss out the can?
posted by zaelic to Food & Drink (20 answers total)
This may just be me, but i would definitely not eat something from a bulging can.
posted by torisaur at 5:26 AM on March 10, 2014 [9 favorites]

I eat a lot of stuff without thinking twice, but eating from a bulging can is a Rubicon I would never cross.

I'm sorry for your loss. Maple syrup is delicious.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:28 AM on March 10, 2014 [10 favorites]

Please do not eat this.
posted by zem at 5:29 AM on March 10, 2014


Bulging is the classic sign that things are terribly, terribly wrong.

I too am sorry for your loss.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:31 AM on March 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

Totally ignoring the botulism issue, what may well be happening is fermentation, so you may have some sort of maple beer or mead now in place of syrup. Depending on what type of fermentation the end result may or may not be edible. At the very least it is probably no longer usable as maple syrup.
posted by TedW at 5:32 AM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

You need to look at the odds here. Whatever is in that can is no longer pure maple syrup. So there's a very slim chance that it naturally fermented into something alcoholic (yeast). There's a moderate chance that something very gross (mold) is growing inside. There's also a moderate chance that it will look fine but do unspeakable things to your insides if you eat it (bacteria).

Crack it open and take a peek if you're curious, but I would not put any of those possibilities into my mouth.
posted by specialagentwebb at 5:32 AM on March 10, 2014 [14 favorites]

I'd throw it away without even opening it to be safe. And I say that as someone who will eat anything and who hates throwing any food away (especially yummy treats).
posted by lharmon at 5:43 AM on March 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

I routinely eat week-old things THAT HAVE FALLEN ON THE FLOOR and I would still not cross the bulging can line, dude. While it might be okay bacteria (e.g. surstromming), it might also be baaaaad bacteria (e.g. botulinum). And no matter WHAT it is, it is not going to enhance that sweet maple-y goodness, alas.
posted by julthumbscrew at 5:50 AM on March 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

Those who assured you that botulism bacteria cannot grow in syrup due to the high sugar content are wrong. Botulism bacteria can grow in honey, which is why the recommendations against feeding honey to infants exist. If those little fuckers can grow in honey, I have no doubt they can grow in syrup.
posted by fancyoats at 6:07 AM on March 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

Something in there has generated enough pressure to make the can bulge.

Before you dispose of it in accordance with biocontamination standards, please open it while recording video.

And leave a note in your will that you want the video posted in this thread.

Thanks in advance!
posted by Combat Wombat at 6:12 AM on March 10, 2014 [23 favorites]

Those who assured you that botulism bacteria cannot grow in syrup due to the high sugar content are wrong. Botulism bacteria can grow in honey, which is why the recommendations against feeding honey to infants exist.

Honey is contraindicated for infants not because the Clostridium botulinum bacteria actively grows in honey, but because the honey may contain the hardy, heat resistant spores produced by the bacteria. The digestive tract of infants is not fully developed and does not have the low pH that prevents germination and growth of the bacteria. Adults with compromised GI tracts are also susceptible to the spores for similar reasons. Humans of any age can get botulism by eating food that contains the toxins produced by the bacteria. These toxins can be destroyed by heat.

The hyperosmolality of honey or syrup prevents bacterial growth by denying water to bacteria. Bacteria cannot grow without water. I do not think that C. botulinum is growing in your can of syrup. However, if it is (an unknown species of) mold growing in your syrup, even if you remove the visible mold, the spores it produced will remain. You don't want to eat them.
posted by Seppaku at 7:09 AM on March 10, 2014 [11 favorites]

You can destroy botulism toxin by boiling. I don't know what that will do to your maple syrup, but it will render the toxins inert.
posted by three blind mice at 7:11 AM on March 10, 2014

Another person who eats almost anything, including raw meat and raw eggs on a regular basis, who wouldn't touch this with a 10ft pole. Even if it was a pole made out of pancakes.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:20 AM on March 10, 2014 [8 favorites]

Maple Syrup World sells a wide variety of Canadian maple syrups and related products, and they will ship worldwide.

Please dispose of what you have responsibly. It's not safe to eat, and frankly (having had the experience of home made maple syrup go back, breach it's container, and infest a tin cupboard in the basement) I wouldn't open it indoors.

So sorry. So sad.
posted by anastasiav at 7:27 AM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Please do not eat this. This is not how you want your loved ones to remember you, as someone who died thanks to a bad batch of maple syrup.

Oh, and if you share my natural inclination to put rotted things on a compost heap, in this case it is a Bad Idea, so don't do that either; here are directions for safe disposal of bad canned goods.
posted by emjaybee at 7:55 AM on March 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

what's funny is that maple syrup is one of those things that people can store carelessly -- that is, the old-timers recommend just scraping off any scum and reboiling as necessary. still, to bulge a can, you're probably talking about so much of something gross that there might not be a lot of syrup left after you work with it.
posted by acm at 9:01 AM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Unavailable in the place where I live." In other words, you can't have it shipped there? That is too bad.

I'm reminded that back in the 1950s, my father took a trip to France. He wanted to send a thank-you present of something uniquely American (sorry Canada!), and sent maple syrup. He got a note back by saying they had opened it and tasted it, and it was good, but asking how it was normally consumed. Dad explained about pancakes, and offered some other suggestions such as on ice cream.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:56 AM on March 10, 2014

I have eaten burgers on a Monday that were left in a car in the sun on Friday without giving it a second thought. I have eaten cooked chicken left out for days, I have eaten week-old tuna-fish. I have consumed "undercooked" pork chops witout concern. I'll eat a raw egg right now if it's used in a Caesar salad. I never say "don't eat it" so perhaps that lends some gravity:

I worked at a cannery. The thing is, there is a way for a "wick" to form in the canning process so while it might be Pure Delicious Quebec Maple Syrup in the can the failure mode can be quite alarming. Fingernails, hunks of skin, the tiny straw used to stir the coffee on a coffee break, a little teensy hair; all those can interrupt the seal and provide a little tiny highway for bad things even if the medium is unlikely to support bad things.

Never ever fuck with a bulging can. Throw it away.
posted by vapidave at 10:05 AM on March 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

Hmmm... you know... maybe - just maybe - I should not eat what is in that can. The People's Directorate has - after reviewing the testimony given here - decided to toss it in the garbage, but I just might open it on the terrace and video it to see what kind sorts of mutant predator crawls out of it. Just a sniff, no tasting.

Thank you all for valiantly saving my life.

Oh, and the reason we were about to open it up and slather it all over yogurt and pancakes is because somebody from Montreal is arriving in town next week and bringing us a can of Nova Scotia maple syrup. It ain't Sirop Erable du Quebec, but it should do fine.
posted by zaelic at 10:36 AM on March 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Maybe you could take a photo (or photos) of the can, send it (them) to the manufacturer, and get a replacement?

The idea of having to throw out maple syrup (which, yes, nthing, holy dog do NOT eat) makes me sad. There should be some kind of compensation for your pain, dangit!
posted by mon-ma-tron at 9:11 PM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

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