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Cans (aka tins) are metal containers (usually cylindrical) in which food or drink is hermetically sealed for storage over long periods of time. The size of a Can cannot be taken as an indication of how much weight in food it will hold. Cans that are the same size can vary in weight after they are filled, depending on what they were filled with of course. And, every Can, during filling, must leave some headspace, and not be filled right up to the very top.

In North America, metrification of Can sizes hasn't necessarily led to rationalization of Can sizes.

When you see three digit numbers, they are created as follows:
    • The first number of the three digits represents the number of whole inches. So, in a 303 Can/ tin, the first three represents 3 inches (7 1/2 cm);
    • The final two numbers represent sixteenths of an inch. So, in 303, the "03" part at the end represents 3/16ths of an inch (4.7 mm.) So the total size of the Can is 3 3/16 inches.

When the full dimensions are given, they will look like this: 303 x 407 (3 3/16 x 4 7/16.) The first number given is the width; the second is the height. So, the Can in our example is 3 3/16 inches (8.1 cm) wide x 4 7/16 inches (11.3 cm) tall. As a short form, usually just the first dimension of 303 is given -- the width.

North American Can Sizes Chart

The standard sizes that evolved in North America were numbered 1 through 10 (plus a 2 1/2 size.)

In North America, some older recipes used these can sizes as a measurement of how much of an ingredient they were calling for.

Size Number Volume of Food
1/41/2 cup4 ozIndividual portions.
3/83/4 cup6 ozFor both individual portions of fruit juices, and frozen juice concentrates.
1/21 cup8 ozPortions of vegetables and fruits for 2 people.
#11 1/3 cup 11 ozFruit, vegetables, condensed soups.
No. 1 picnic
211 by 400
1 1/4 cups10 1/2 to 12 ozMostly condensed soups, but also some fruits and vegetables.
#1 tall
301 x 411
2 cups16 ozMostly condensed soups, but also some fruits and vegetables.
#1 square2 cups16 oz
No. 2
307 x 409
2 1/2 cups20 ozJuice, uncondensed soup, pineapple and apple slices, fruits, vegetables. Tomatoes.
No. 2 cylinder
307 x 512
26 1/2 oz of water
No. 2 vacuum
307 x 306
1 1/212 ozMainly used for vacuum-packed sweet corn kernels.
No. 2 1/2
3 1/2 cups27 to 29 ozFruit, tomatoes, sauerkraut, pumpkin puréed, spinach.
#2-1/2 square4 cups31 oz
No. 211
211 x 414
1 1/212 ozCylinder-shaped
No. 3
5 3/4 cups51 ozCylinder shaped. Juices.

Institutional sizes of pork and beans, condensed soups and some vegetables.
#3 squat2 3/4 cupsLooks like a No. 3 can cut in half. Baked beans.
No. 3 cylinder
404 x 700
5-3/446 oz
No. 300

used to be #4
300 by 407
or 300 x 509 (cylinder)
1 3/4 cups14 to 16 ozBaked beans, cranberry sauce, chili, canned macaroni.
No. 303

303 x 406
2 cups 16 to 17 ozMain size post 1980s for fruits, vegetables.
No. 303 cylinder
303 x 509
22 oz22 oz
502 x 510
7 1/3 cupsLarge tins for tuna
No. 10
602 x 700
603 x 830
3 quarts (12 cups)
*may hold up to 1 cup more based on size of the can
6 1/2 pounds to 7 pounds and 5 ozInstitutional sized fruit, vegetable.

Storage Hints

It's generally still considered a big no-no to store food in an openedcan. The American Food Products Association says: "Once opened, leftover contents must be removed from the can and placed in a covered, non-metallic container and refrigerated or frozen." (2005. Retrieved from http://www.fpa-food.org/content/consumers/faqs.asp.)

History Notes

At first, every manufacturer made its own cans for its own food. In 1928, when Heinz first started canning baked beans in the UK, it made its own cans at its factory in Waxlow Road, Harlesden, north-west London (later to be bombed twice during World War Two.) Crosse & Blackwell made their own cans in Bermondsey in South London, a centre of Can production.

At a certain point, the desire for standardization came about. This allowed food processors to buy cans from third-party suppliers and realize cost savings. Note that as of the early 2000s, at least, Heinz in the UK had gone back to making its own cans.

See also the History section in the Preserves entry.


Can Openers; Cans; Pullman Cans

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Oulton, Randal. "Cans." CooksInfo.com. Published 07 August 2004; revised 31 May 2009. Web. Accessed 06/21/2018. <http://www.cooksinfo.com/cans>.

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