Canned Tomatoes: Good or Bad?

by in Food Safety, Grocery Shopping, Healthy Tips, August 17, 2010


We’re celebrating fresh tomatoes this week, but we can’t forget about that standby substitute: canned tomatoes. Many of our readers have expressed concern over using canned goods, including  BPA risks, nutritional value and of course, food safety. So, how safe is this pantry staple? We’ve got the scoop.

The Good
Canned tomatoes (just like fresh, in season ones) are low in calories and packed with vitamin C and fiber. The canning process destroys some of the vitamin C and fiber, so be sure to read the labels to get the most from your canned tomatoes. Canned tomatoes (as opposed to fresh) are an excellent source of the antioxidant lycopene, shown to help lower the risk of heart disease, prostate cancer and macular degeneration (poor eyesight as you get older).

No time to blanch and peel tomatoes for  homemade sauce, chili or soup? That’s when the canned stuff comes in handy. They’re especially useful during the winter months when tomatoes aren’t in season, and can be stored in your pantry for up to 18 months.

BPA Concerns
We’ve talked about BPA in  plastic containers, but now concern over BPA in canned goods is growing. A report released by Consumer Reports found that 19 brand-name foods contained some amount of BPA, which is used in the lining of the can. The National Institute of Health invested over 30 million dollars to determine if BPA effects our health, especially low-dose exposure (like from canned goods). BPA-free brands like Eden foods are available in many markets.

Canned tomatoes often contain lots of salt. If you check the label, you’ll typically find anywhere from 100 to 300 milligrams of sodium per serving – that’s 4 to 13 percent of the daily recommendation. Look for “No Salt Added” versions to reduce sodium by a third.

You may also find preservatives like citric acid and calcium chloride on some products. Both are considered safe to eat. Citric acid helps preserve color, while calcium chloride helps keep diced tomatoes nice and firm. You can also opt for boxed tomatoes (like Pomi) — they’re BPA-free,  and the only ingredient listed on the label is tomatoes.

Botulism is a concern with all canned goods, and tomatoes are no exception. Although the bacteria don’t thrive in acidic environments, cases of botulism have cropped up in canned tomatoes. Avoid cans that are dented, leaky, rusted or swollen, and discard those that are foamy, cloudy or foul-smelling upon opening. Store in the pantry and follow the “use by” date. Once opened, don’t store food in opened cans — the contents end up tasting like metal, and the cans weren’t designed for refrigeration. Transfer to a refrigerator-safe container and store for up to 4 days.

Bottom Line: There are many pros and cons to using canned tomatoes. They’re quick, convenient and full of nutrients, but additives and growing BPA concerns may make you think twice. We stick to our motto of “all things in moderation,” but now that you’re informed, use the information to decide what’s right for you.

TELL US: Do you use canned tomatoes? Why or why not?

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »

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Comments (118)

  1. Personally, I only used canned tomatoes when I know I won't time to cook, as its much easier than using real tomatoes that are fresh really being the lazy mans way out. It is not healthier and when I can do get fresh tomatoes as they are much more succulent and fresh!

  2. @catmears says:

    I don't buy canned tomatoes, but will buy the kind in boxes (like Pomi) or jars.

    I do wonder – if you can the tomatoes yourself, do you still have to worry about BPA?

  3. I no longer buy canned tomatoes. I know of no company that produces tomatoes in BPA free cans. Even Eden Foods uses BPA lined cans for their tomatoes. From their website:… Scroll down almost to the end. My first preference is tomatoes fresh from our garden. But that isn't an option most of the year. When I need to buy out of season tomatoes, I choose jarred ones. Sometimes buying marinara sauce rather than plain tomatoes. There is BPA in the lid of the jar, though I don't know how much.

    • Bert says:

      We grow our tomatoes and I then freeze them. They are great for cooking only. It works for us and is so easy to freeze. Just put in freezer bags and freeze. Couldn't be easier.

  4. Oh, and I like @catmears suggestion to buy boxed tomatoes. I'll have to remember that. Old habits are hard to break.

  5. daisym0m says:

    I'm 65 yrs old and have used fresh and canned tomatoes. I like fresh for tomato sandwiches and canned for cooked dishes. Tonight I'm making lasagna and will use the canned ones. I usually buy Progresso and they seem to taste the best. I also use canned for okra and tomatoes.

  6. YNPGal says:

    My question is not the BPA (although I am aware of their dangers and avoid canned foods when possible), but what tomatoes are going into the cans.

    After walking away from cancer, we learned that manipulated food (including pre-made anything in a box or can!) aggravates those cells that can become cancer. Why would I take a chance on my future that way?

    It’s been proven that mass-producers of produce, like tomatoes, are growing genetically altered fruits and veggies that do little more than produce in greater amounts and travel well over the hundreds/thousands of miles they need to get to your local grocery store.

    Today’s commercial tomatoes are almost nothing like the fruits our moms and dads ate. Little nutrition, but plenty of insecticide, herbicide and GMOs.

    I decided to simply stop eating whatever can’t be produced from the dirt by small farmers around my area. We eat what’s in season and know who grew it. It’s the easiest way to eat, and not eat too much (because it does cost more to eat right!), and stay the healthiest.

    • Marianne says:

      that is why I grow my own or go to grower the don't use pesticides and I have recently found a wonderful farmers market that I just found out in now open in the winter. And for us Canadians that is a real treat!! I was watching this thing from Primo and they are the only company that uses steam to peal their tomatoes! the other use chemicals is that nice?!?!?!? Going back to the basics is the only way in all my research to truely avoid all their poisons…we don't want to get started on hydonated oil and all it's wonderful poisons and all the food they use it it…I'm a true label reader since I found out I have cancer!!! Start teaching your children different is all can say!!

    • Marianne says:

      and you might as well forget about store produce unless it is organic, because they are full of crap too…lol

  7. Bert says:

    We grow our tomatoes and I then freeze them. They are great for cooking only. It works for us and is so easy to freeze. Just put in freezer bags and freeze. Couldn't be easier.

  8. Blah says:

    I think if you have the opprtunity to use fresh tomatoes, use them! If you choose the fresh, you won't have to worry about anything. And, always remember, wash the tomatoes before you use them. You never know what's on them. I f you need tomato sauce, buy the ones in glass jars. Some may be more expensive, but it's better than having bad stuff in your food. If you really need or want to use canned, look for the BPA free cans (It should say on the label). I hope this info helps!!

  9. Judi says:

    During the growing season I eat tomatoes breakfast, lunch, and dinner!! And sometimes even in between meals…(and even fried green ones.) I love them! Now….my question is…where can I purchase good sundried tomatoes, preferably canned in olive oil? Or…how can I dry my own successfully? I do freeze them at the end of the summer – just whole with the skins on – then when ready to use for soups or sauces, pass them under the hot water fawcet for a few seconds, and the skins slip right off – and in the pot they go! Great! Can't wait for another year of tomatoes!!

    • Jen says:

      I made my own sundried tomatoes this year for the 1st time…they turned out quite well but took a long time. I used heirloom yellow romas and purple and red cherry tomatoes, cut them in half, seeded the romas but left the seeds in the cherries…added a very small sprinkle of salt…I covered a large jelly roll pan with foil, then placed a cookie cooling rack on top and arranged the tomatoes skin side up in a single layer, put another cooling rack on top(to keep air space around the tomatoes), and covered the whole mess with cheese cloth…I set this in the sun where it got about 8 hours of sun each day…it was hot…above 90F, and it took 4 days for the tomatoes to get completely dry. At night I brought them inside and refrigerated them so they would not collect dew. Overall, not much effort, but a lot of waiting. :)

  10. When you can eat fresh vegetables then what is the need to use canned food.

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