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Why Are Cans Shaped That Way?

The metal can is an amazing work of food packaging. They are tough, long-lasting, and convenient. But how did we come to agree on the cylindrical shape of food cans? Nick Berry at Datagenetics (previously at Neatorama) takes a look at the many aspects of a simple design.

* The ratio of packaging materials to the volume of food.
* Structural integrity and strength.
* The ease of packing, stacking, shipping, and storing quantities of containers.
* Minimizing wasted space.
* The ease of manufacture.
* Usability for the consumer.
* Aesthetics.

Each of these aspects is studied, and since it is Datagenetics, there is some math involved. Who knew so much thought went into a can of soup? Still, everyone has something to complain about. My pet peeve is using my 1972 cook book that calls for 16-ounce cans of some ingredient and finding they are sold in 13- and 14-ounce sizes now. You’ll learn more than you ever thought you needed to know about food cans in this article. -Thanks, Nick!

We dish up more neat food posts at the Neatolicious blog

Newest 5
Newest 5 Comments

I'll try adding some chopped onion the next time I heat up some CBH.
Since CB is similar to pastrami I have a sudden urge for a reuben. Haven't had
one in ages.
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Corned beef is still opened with a key. Corned beef hash is just corned beef with potatoes added, usually sold at the same price. I just add my own potatoes (and onions). And corned beef is great for homemade soup! You can't say that about Spam.
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I had a great reply all set to go and got caught by the Neatorama.com maintenance outage which naturally deleted it all. But all was not wasted. I posted a question
about Spam cans on The Straight Dope web site. Got a bunch of replies. Donno
if the Q was actually answered but one made a point about having to use a built in key to open the old Spam cans. Remember them?
http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?p=17595434#post17595434
You can also buy a meat slicer just for Spam! Only $3.15. S&H is probably $29.92 GGGG Such a deal!
Speaking of food, while on the TSD site I found out why green olives are usually sold in jars while black olives are sold in cans.
Closest I've come to buying canned corned beef is corned beef hash which is different. Never seen the tapered CB cans. Will try and look for them.
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That makes sense for fish, since they have to be canned near the point of origin, versus vegetables that can be transported easier than fish. I wonder if the same holds true for corned beef and spam, which have distinctively odd-shaped cans. Or is that just tradition?
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Speaking of cans, what is the only can in the grocery store as far as I know that has a very distinct shape? I noticed that cans of salmon do not have parallel sides like other cylindrical cans. Am I the only one that noticed this and did something to resolve the question? Being the curious sort I am I found a salmon industry web site and sent them an EMail asking them about the strange shape of salmon cans. They replied and explained the curiosity for me. I found it very interesting and hope you do too. The empty cans had to be shipped to Alaska for filling with salmon. Some smart person figured they could stack them inside each other and save a lot of space over normal shaped cans. This decreased the shipping costs measurably. I assume this still holds true. I think every can of salmon you see will be shaped like that. Or at least the ones with Alaska salmon. The next time you go grocery shopping pick up a can of salmon and maybe it will make you smile. That would be nice.
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