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What Is a #10 Can? Everything You Need to Know about using #10 Cans


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Last Updated: January 30, 2021

If you want to store emergency food for the long-term, then you’ve probably heard #10 cans mentioned.  These are one of the best ways to store food but they also have some major drawbacks.

Here’s what you need to know about #10 cans, we’ll be covering:

What Are #10 Cans?

Mountain House emergency food in #10 cans

A #10 can (pronounced ten pound can) is a size of can used to store food. You can often find foods sold in #10 cans at warehouse supermarkets like Costco or Sam’s Club. Emergency foods, like those by Augason Farms or Mountain House, also commonly come in #10 cans.

How Big Is a #10 Can?

The name ten pound can does not actually refer to the weight of the can contents: the weight varies depending on what you store inside the can.

Rather, #10 refers to a standard size which measures approximately 6​ 3⁄16 x 7 inches and has a volume of 104-117 fluid ounces (approx. 3 to 3.5 liters). The can itself weighs approximately 9oz.

There are many other standard sizes for cans. For example, most commercial soup comes in #2 cans which hold 16 fl. oz.

Common Can Sizes Compared

Note that can sizes are typically listed using liquids.  The amount a can holds will vary depending on the food.

Can SizeOunces HeldCups Held
#111 oz.1 1/3 cups
#1 Tall16 oz.2 cups
#220 oz.2 1/2 cups
#2.527 - 29 oz.3 1/2 cups
#351 oz.5 3/4 cups
#556 oz.7 cups
#10109 - 117 oz.12-13 cups
#30014 - 16 oz.1 ¼ - 1 3/4 cups
#30316 - 17 oz.2 cups

(Source: UNL Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources)

How Much Food Fits in a #10 Can?

The amount of food which can fit in a #10 can varies depending on how dense the food is.

For example, a #10 can will typically hold 12 cups (106oz) of cooked corn but only 9 cups (6oz) of freeze-dried strawberries. Fifty pounds of rice will typically fit in nine #10 cans.

The table below shows how much food fits into a #10 can by volume and weight.

FoodBy AmountBy Weight
Soup stock13 cups117 oz.
Cooked corn12 cups106 oz.
Whole peeled tomatoes12.5 cups105 oz.
Salt10 cups104 oz.
Rice12.5 cups90 oz.
Milk powder11.6 cups55 oz.
Soup powder10.5 cups50 oz.
Oats11 cups39 oz.
Egg powder11 cups33 oz.
Peanut butter powder8.4 cups32 oz.
Freeze-dried beef11 cups28 oz.
Freeze-dried strawberries9 cups6 oz.

What Are #10 Cans Made From?

Most #10 cans are made from tinplate, which is steel that has been coated in a thin layer of tin. Because tinplate is created using a process called electrolytic deposition, it is also sometimes called electrolytic tin-coated steel.

Tin-coated steel is very sturdy, non-toxic, and non-corrosive. The tinplate cans are sometimes lined with a material, such as acrylic or R enamel, to create a barrier between the food and the can. This helps prevent interaction with the metal which might cause corrosion. Unlined cans should only be used with dry foods.

Sometimes you will also find cans made from other materials, such as aluminum or stainless steel. However, these are not common and not recommended for food storage.

What Can You Store in #10 Cans?

In theory, any food could be stored in a #10 can. Even non-food items like ammunition can be stored in #10 cans. However, #10 cans are generally only used for dry canning (storing non-perishable dry foods like beans and grains).

Can You Store Wet Foods in #10 Cans?

#10 can of tomatoes sold at Walmart

You can find plenty of wet foods sold in commercially-packed #10 cans. However, it is generally not possible to store wet foods or liquids in #10 cans yourself. The reason for this is that most #10 cans sold for DIY metal canning are not lined.

Because they aren’t lined (or are lined with a material which isn’t compatible with wet items), the #10 cans will corrode over time. Rust will get into your food and eventually holes will form, causing the contents to leak out.

If you want to store liquids in metal cans at home, you’ll need to find cans which specifically say they are safe to use with liquids. I personally am not aware of any company which sells #10 cans that are safe for wet foods. Many smaller sizes of cans are safe for wet foods though.

Pros and Cons of #10 Cans for Food Storage

Pro: Durable

Cans don’t let any light, air or moisture pass through. So, if stored properly, food in #10 cans will last years or even decades without going bad. Cans are also very durable and can make it through natural disasters like hurricanes without getting damaged. In this sense, cans are the safest way to store your emergency food.

Con: Expensive Equipment

To store food in #10 cans, you will need a can sealer. These are very expensive pieces of equipment. Even the manual ones will cost at least $500 to purchase. Motorized can sealers typically cost thousands of dollars.

Even if you are prepared to buy a can sealer (or maybe you are able to borrow or rent one from your local LDS cannery), the cans themselves are very expensive. Expect to pay $2 to $3 per can if you buy online. At this price, it’s often cheaper to just buy the cans pre-filled from emergency food companies. Sometimes you can find #10 cans from local suppliers for cheaper if you pick them up yourself.

Con: Too Large

An issue with #10 cans for emergency food is that they hold a lot of food. This generally isn’t an issue with non-perishable dry foods like flour or beans. However, if you buy wet foods in #10 cans, you’ll need to refrigerate any uneaten food. In an emergency situation where the power is down, this might not be possible.

Unless you have a very large family and can eat the entire contents of a #10 can in one sitting, it often doesn’t make sense to get such large cans. Smaller cans of food are more practical to use.

Con: Not Reusable

Once you open a #10 can, you cannot use it for food storage again. Apparently Gering and Son used to sell a reflanging tool for #10 cans so you could use them again. However, this tool cost over $1000 so it would take a long time to break even. It seems like they don’t sell the reflanging machine anymore anyway.

*If you know where to get a #10 can reflanging tool, let us know in the comments!

Con: Not for Wet or Liquid Foods

As mentioned before, I don’t know of any company which sells open-top #10 cans that are safe for wet foods.  If I’m going to invest in a home can sealer, then I’d want the flexibility of storing wet items too (it’s more disaster-proof than canning in glass jars).  In that sense, I’d rather buy a can sealer for smaller cans than a #10 can sealer.

#10 Cans vs. Mylar

Both #10 cans and Mylar bags are great for storing dry foods because they don’t let light, air or moisture through. If you put an oxygen absorber into the can or Mylar bag before sealing, then you’ve created an oxygen-free environment too. Some foods can last for decades when stored like this.

The only real benefit of using #10 cans over Mylar is that they are more durable. Roof beams could fall on a #10 can and it would likely survive. By contrast, Mylar bags puncture fairly easily. To solve this problem, many preppers just put their Mylar bags in buckets. The buckets are nearly as durable as a can.

Ultimately, most people are going to choose the Mylar+bucket method for storing food long-term because it is so much cheaper. The bags themselves cost less than 50 cents each (even cheaper if you buy in bulk). No special equipment is required: you can seal them with a home iron. You can even reuse Mylar bags after opening them.

Read about Mylar bags for long-term food storage

How to Seal #10 Cans At Home

Once you have the supplies, storing food in #10 cans is very easy. The basic instructions are:

  1. Fill the cans with food. Give the cans a little shake when they are halfway full so the contents settle and you can fit more food insid.
  2. Label the cans with the contents and date. A simple way to do this is to write on the cans with permanent marker and then cover it with clear plastic packing tape to protect it.
  3. Place the lids on the cans.
  4. Put the cans in the can sealer.
  5. Follow the can sealer instructions to seal the cans.
  6. Check the seal before storing.

These videos show you how the process is done.

If you are interested in canning meat in smaller cans (check that they are safe for liquid foods), I recommend watching this video from the Alaska Cooperative Extension. They do a good job of showing how to properly heat game meat in cans to prevent botulism poisoning.

Handling #10 Cans and Lids

Even though #10 cans are very durable once sealed, they are somewhat fragile beforehand. It’s easy to dent the cans or the lids, which could make it impossible to get a good seal. The edges of the cans and lids are also very sharp, so handle them with care.

How Many Oxygen Absorbers to Use in a #10 Can

A #10 can contains approximately one gallon. You should use the same number of oxygen absorbers as you would with any other 1-gallon container, which is usually 400-600cc. The amount of oxygen absorbers needed varies depending on how much air is in and around the food being stored.

Read more about oxygen absorbers for long-term food storage

Manual vs. Motorized Can Sealer

Manual can sealers are more affordable than motorized sealers. However, the money saved usually isn’t worth it. The reason is because manual can sealers will take much longer to seal a single can. It varies depending on how proficient you are, but expect it to take 20-30 seconds per can with a manual sealer. By contrast, electric can sealers can finish a can in seconds.

Oxygen absorbers should be used to store dry foods in #10 cans, and these start absorbing oxygen as soon as they are exposed to the air. By the time you finish sealing the first few cans with a manual sealer, the oxygen absorbers might have lost their effectiveness.

Further, manual can sealers will physically tire you out. You’ll also get mentally tired from having to count out revolutions for each can.

Storing #10 Cans

Here’s what you need to know about storing #10 cans so the cans and their contents stay good for years or decades.

Do #10 Cans Rust?

rusty #10 can

Tinplated 310 cans do a good job of resisting corrosion but, if kept somewhere wet or very humid, they will eventually start to rust.

Always make sure to keep the cans dry. Never store them in the basement. You also want to keep the cans off of concrete floors and away from walls; put them on pallets or shelves instead.

What if you have to store #10 cans in the basement or somewhere humid?

Ideally you would not keep #10 cans in the basement; the risk of corrosion is too high. However, I have heard of many people protecting their #10 cans with paraffin. For example, a member of the Homesteading Today community did this while living on a boat.

To coat #10 cans in paraffin: 

  • Remove any paper labels from the cans. Write the contents with permanent marker.
  • Dip the can in paraffin wax so it is completely coated.
  • Alternatively, just cover the top and bottom seal area with paraffin, though this won’t provide the same level of protection.
  • Store the coated #10 cans on wooden pallets.
  • Do not store the cans in buckets as this will trap humidity in with the can.

Refrigeratoro

There is no need to store canned foods in the refrigerator. The entire point of canning them is to keep them fresh. However, it is generally safe to put unopened cans in the fridge. The only potential issue is that your fridge might be high humidity, which could eventually lead to corrosion.

You generally shouldn’t put opened cans of food into the fridge though. Once open, the food can react with the opened metal rim of the can. Metal could then leach into the food. However, the risk of this happening is very low. It could take years for any significant leaching to occur. So, it’s not as bad a practice as some would have you think (Sources: Science Notes, Alsaksa USDA)

Freezing Temperatures and #10 Cans

When storing #10 cans of tomatoes, cooked vegetables, and other wet foods, it’s very important that you don’t let the cans freeze. Even though manufacturers leave some headspace, the expanding frozen food can cause the #10 can to burst open.

You also shouldn’t let dry foods in #10 cans freeze either. Dry foods do contain a bit of moisture but it is usually evenly distributed throughout the food. When frozen and then thawed though, the moisture can clump together (not being very scientific here), causing wet spots to form. These wet spots could allow pathogens like botulism to grow.

Reusing #10 Cans

Here are some ideas about what you can do with empty #10 cans:

  • Growing containers for plants. Some plants even like rust.
  • Mini trashcans
  • Storing random small items around the house
  • Scrap metal: Cup them open with tin snips and hammer them flat. They then can be used for things like an improvised roof.
  • Rocket stove: See designs here
  • Make a Hobo stove
  • Make a solar heater: You can use them instead of soda cans
  • “Poor man’s dry canning”: I got this idea from a Permies forum. Use a sideways can opener on some to create lids. Fill other cans with dry food items. Put the lids you made on top. Tape the lids in place with foil tape.

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