Safely disposing of unsafe home canned goods

Canned carrotsMany of you have probably finished your home canning for the season. As you are selecting your jars for use make sure you examine each jar for spoilage. What should you be looking for? First of all make sure the lid is tight and a vacuum seal was created. Look for any streaks of dried food on the outside of the jar. As you look at the contents inside the jar, see if you can detect cloudy canning liquid, rising air bubbles, or any unnatural colors. When you open the jar make sure you do not see any mold growing. Also pay attention to any spurting liquid or odd smells. These things are good indicators of food spoilage. Never taste the food from a jar that you suspect has been spoiled. You will also want to dispose of it properly.

If the jars are still sealed but show signs of spoilage, you can leave the jar intact but write on the jar that it is spoiled or poisonous and to not eat it. You can place those jars in a heavyweight garbage bag, close the bag, and place it in your regular trash container or dispose of it in your nearby landfill.

If the jars are not sealed they should be detoxified before being disposed of. In order to do that you will want to first of all protect yourself by wearing rubber or plastic gloves. Remove the lids from the jars. Carefully place the jars in a large pan on their sides. Add the lids to the pan as well. Add water to the pan until it reaches one inch above the jars. Cover the pan and bring the water to a boil. Boil for 30 minutes to detoxify the possible botulism toxin in the food. Once the food and lids have cooled you can throw them away in your regular trash. Wash the jars and the pan you used in hot soapy water.

To decontaminate any surfaces that the spoiled food may have come in contact with, spray or wet the surface with a solution of one part bleach to five parts water and let it sit for 30 minutes. If you are decontaminating metal utensils, use one teaspoon bleach to one quart of water and again let it sit for 30 minutes. Use paper towels to wipe up any treated spills. Discard of the paper towels in a plastic bag before putting them in your regular trash.

Spoilage in home canned food does happen. Make sure you examine your jars carefully before serving any not only to your family and friends but pets as well.


Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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15 thoughts on “Safely disposing of unsafe home canned goods

  1. I moved into an old house and there are tons of old canned food. Some jars are in tact and some are clearly unsealed. Some food is clearly gone bad. I want to dispose of these jars properly. I do not wish to salvage even the jars. How should I handle the jars where the seals are clearly broke?

  2. Hi, the contents of the opened jars can be buried in a hole deep enough that dogs or cats in your neighborhood would not have access to them. Be sure to limit your exposure to the contents of the jars.

  3. Joyce, thank you for your inquiry. You ask a great question which I do not feel qualified to fully answer but will offer some insight. The biggest concern with home canned foods is Clostridium botulinum. C. botulinum is prevalent in soil and marine sediments worldwide, most commonly as spores. These spores are found everywhere including on the surfaces of fruits and vegetables and in seafood. While the spores are generally harmless, the danger can occur once the spores begin to grow out into active bacteria and produce neurotoxins. The spores must have an oxygen-depleted, low-acid environment in which to grow, and prefer temperatures between 40 °F and 120 °F. Therefore, these organisms can’t grow if air or free oxygen is present in their microenvironment (the area immediately next to them). C botulinum spores are easily denatured when exposed to sunlight, air, or heat.

  4. I recently had an abundance of cucumbers and made a few different batches of both bread and butter and Dill pickles. The last small batch recipe of Kosher Dills was very different from the rest, where there was very little vinegar. The cucumbers sat in a salt brine over night, then were placed in prepared jars the following day with only a half teaspoon of salt and sugar, 1 tsp vinegar, 1 halved garlic clove, fresh dill and 1/2 Tbsp pickling spice. All were topped with boiling water, then canned in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. I noticed 1 turned cloudy, then the seal failed. It was also bubbling like seltzer. The second one also turned cloudy, but the seal stayed intact and there was no fizzing from the second. There was a white sediment on the bottom of both. I am currently boiling the contents and the jars of both as a precaution before discarding as mentioned above. Since I have had no formal training in canning, do you think the second jar was was contaminated? It smelled wonderful, no off odors. I have one more jar in which the liquid still remains clear. These cucumbers are sliced crosswise (the others we cut as spears). Do you think these will be safe to eat? I canned them on August 2. The temperature in the house is pretty warm at about 79/80° F. I can move the jar to the basement.

  5. Hi Donna, White sediment is common in the bottom of jars of firm, properly fermented pickles due to harmless yeast on the surface of the cucumbers that settled during processing; white sediment can also be caused if table salt was used or there was fluctuations in the temperature. However, I am not sure that you should save those pickles. If you find that they are soft or mushy, they need to be discarded. I do not know the source of your recipe but does not appear to have come from a science based source. It is important when canning to use a recipe from a source where recipes have been thoroughly tested for safety such as the National Center for Home Food Preseration. I would also direct you to a publication, Preserve the Taste of Summer – Pickles to download for free by Iowa State University which has tested recipes and also information on pickles problems. Other land-grant universities also have publications that are safe to use. Home canning is safe as long as one uses safe recipes. It is also best to store any canned foods in the coolest and darkest place of your home. A good place to start if you are new to canning is taking a look at Canning Basics by University of MN Extension. I do hope you will take time to get familiar before you attempt more canning to be sure that you save yourself/family from any food illnesses.

  6. Why would you throw away a perfectly good jar instead of disposing of its contents and sterilizing the jar?

  7. Hi, I am very new to canning and this is very scary. Why would I even remove the lid of the contaminated can and possibly inhale spores, then pour the toxic food in my pot, and boil it in my kitchen, multiplying the chances of splashing myself and my countertop, instead of just putting the can with the food in it, in a ziploc bag, then in a trash bag, then in another trashbag. And not have to be afraid of ever using my pot, ever again.

    Also, nowhere does anyone ever tell us what to do with the cans of food that were next to the spoiled one in the pantry. Do I have to throw these away as well because if proximity? If not, how do I disinfect them? What about if the cans were in a closet? Is the entire closet now full of toxic spores?

    If they’re that dangerous, that I have to throw away the gloves, and wear a mask like I’ve read on some sites, so I have to wear goggles as well?

    Thanks for your time.


  8. Hi Menolly, please carefully read and from the National Center for Home Food Preservation. The canned food sitting adjacent to a spoiled food are not affected. Clostridium botulinum is dangerous when consumed and digested. Botulism doesn’t spread like the common cold. You can only contract foodborne botulism by eating contaminated food that carries the botulinum toxin. The toxins usually result from home-canned, home-bottled or poorly preserved food, in particular, low-acid foods. When you have food preservation questions, please get your information from the National Center for Home Food Preservation or the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning.

  9. About 4 weeks ago I canned some carrots in an Instapot. I have since realized that an Instapot does not do the job correctly. The carrots look fine but I want to throw them out. Can I reuse the jars?

  10. Hi Barb, after disposing of the carrots, wash the jars (dishwasher is best) and reuse. I am so very glad that you realized your mistake and did not eat the carrots as there was no way of knowing if they were safe. Carrots are a low-acid vegetable and must be canned in a true pressure canner (a canner that allows for venting and pressure regulation) to be unquestionably safe. If you like the idea of a digital like an instant pot, Presto makes a digital pressure canner that meets all USDA pressure canner regulations.

  11. my cans are 8 yrs old and now have been exposed to high temps in a garage. i want to empty and keep jars can I do that. it is green beans

  12. Hi Linda, follow the directions in the blog that this question is linked to. If the jars are sealed, they can be opened and the food discarded in whatever manner you would dispose of any vegetable matter on a regular basis. If the lids are not sealed and there is spoilage, you should detoxicify the contents as directed. Once the jars are empty, they can be washed, santitized and used again.

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