U-Can: A Guide to Understanding Food Can Sizes

Can Beginnings: More than Just Preserves

The invention of canning food first revolved around sustaining Napoleon's military troops during colonial expansion. In those days, food was preserved in glass bottles sealed with a cork. Fragile and unreliable, the glass bottles were soon replaced with containers fashioned from tinplate, which could be sealed and made airtight, but were not as fragile as glass. In 1850s America, the necessities of war and westward expansion broadened the popularity of canned goods – almost everything became available in cans after Gail Borden's success with canning condensed milk – and the booming business of can manufacturing took root. The can then took on its own economic force after World War II, as canned goods became more cost effective and convenient.

Maxwell house cans

Can Lingo can be Confusing

With its pivotal history, canned food has become a staple in homes worldwide. Americans use over 130 billion cans each year, and they've been a convenience that many people rely on. The can has played a large part in making the foods and products we buy safe, accessible and easy to afford. However, while the can may seem elementary, 'can lingo' can be confusing. Whether you're in a restaurant, cafeteria, bar, or bakery, many of the recipes used behind the scenes in the foodservice industry rely heavily on canned goods. Can dimensions and can sizes are two aspects of using canned goods that can be unclear. An explanation of dimensional can standards from the Can Manufacturer's Institute follows:

Explanation of Dimensional Food Can Standards

Metal can sizes used in industry in the U.S.A. are derived from nominal outside dimensions. Measurements are made of the empty round can before seaming on the packers' end.

While such dimensions may be expressed in inches, the custom is to use a conventionalized method in which three-digit numbers are used to express each dimension. The first digit indicates the number of whole inches in a dimension, and the second and third digits indicate the fractional inches as sixteenths of an inch. Thus:

  • 303 x 406 means 3-3/16 x 4-6/16 inches
  • 307 x 512 means 3-7/16 x 5-12/16 inches
  • 603 x 700 means 6-3/16 x 7 inches

The first three-digit number describing a round can indicates the diameter measured across the outside of the chime on the seamed end. The second three-digit number indicates the overall height of the can.

Most recipes will specify a can size rather than a volume amount. To help you determine what your recipe calls for, see the table below:

Can Size Table
canned goods

Knowing the sizes and capacities of the most common cans on the market is imperative when planning meals in the food service industry: restaurants, cafeterias, day care centers and more rely on canned goods as a quick, economical and tasty way to serve their patrons. As you can see, the can serves a purpose that has become essential to daily life from buying food in a grocery store, to creating a signature dish in a restaurant. But the can also serves another purpose…

Environmental Responsibility in a Can

Boasting benefits like long-term food quality, product shelf life and safety in packaging, the can has been a pivotal force in the way that consumers shop, cook and eat – providing safe, economical and nutritional food options. Specific products have been created, JUST for use with the can, like can openers and can crushers. Perhaps the greatest impact the can has had is its effect on the environment. Long before the cry for eco-smart and eco-friendly was cool, can manufacturers were quietly committed to sustainability by providing a virtually effortless way to go green: cans are infinitely recyclable. Below is a list of the environmental benefits of the can from the Can Manufacturer's Institute

  • Steel food containers can be recycled multiple times without losing strength or quality
  • The recycling rate of the can is more than 2.5 times higher than other packaging options
  • Every ton of recycled steel saves 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,000 pounds of coal and 40 pounds of limestone

With so many immediate and long-term benefits, the can has certainly left its mark throughout history – and with constant recycling, will continue to do so. For more information about recycling steel cans in your particular area, check out the Steel Recycling Institute's website.

can recycling
Posted in: Consumables
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