The Incredible Shrinking Tuna Can

Have you noticed your tuna can getting smaller? Tuna is the nation’s most popular fish. Canned tuna is a staple in most households. It’s inexpensive and can be added to lots of different ingredients to make easy and filling dishes. It’s one of the most affordable proteins available.

But food manufacturers are using the same packaging tricks they’re using on other processed products. Perhaps you’ve seen that the weights on many packages are getting lighter. Or maybe a box is a little narrower but the same height. Or that there’s more air in the bag. What manufacturers are doing is trying not the raise prices while tricking you in believing you’re getting the same amount in the package. This leads to packaging waste as well as raising ethical questions. The food companies say they’re just trying to help the consumers by keeping prices even while meeting the demands of corporate interests in the face of rising costs for raw ingredients.

I don’t think this is fair. It leads consumers to believe they’re paying the same, even though they are getting less food for the money. I would prefer food manufacturers be honest and use only as much packaging as they need. I don’t want to buy air.

A perfect example of this is the classic standard tuna can. These small, squat cans can be found in almost every American pantry. A few years ago, the weight of these cans were 6-1/2 ounces, whether packed in oil or water. Then they were 6-1/4 ounces. Then 6. Now, they are 5-1/2 ounces. The cans are the same size but there’s a lot more water in the can.

I first noticed this one day when I was getting ready to make tuna salad. I always open the can but leave the lid in place. I turn the can over in the sink, holding the lid in place with my fingers. Then I would gently push the lid into the can, squeezing out more of the water or oil. (Yes, I do use tuna in oil sometimes because of the flavor. I just choose tuna packed in olive oil.) I noticed that the lid went further into the can than I remembered it doing before. When I turned the can over and removed the lid, I noticed the fish was only in the bottom half of the can, meaning there was more liquid in it.

I looked at the can label and noticed the lighter weight. I realized the companies were pulling the save trick they had with cereal boxes and potato chip bags. The cans were approximately the same size, but there was less product inside.

It pays to read labels. The government requires accurate labeling, so take advantage of it. This is especially important when comparing prices. If your cell phone has a calculator function, use it while you’re shopping. You can figure out exactly how much you’re paying per ounce or other measurement between different size packages and brands.

2 Responses to “The Incredible Shrinking Tuna Can”

  1. Just discovered the change in tuna can size and the amount of product. I recently used just half a can to make a sandwich. When I tried to cover the remainder with a plastic lid that used to fit the tuna and cat food cans, the lid was was too big! I looked at the label, and what used to be 6 oz of tuna is now only 5 ounces!

  2. If you want specific numbers, the federally mandated minimum standard fill for “solid” tuna is 3.23oz for a 5oz can; the remaining 1.77oz is water or oil. This means a can of so-called “solid” tuna is 35% water.

    For “chunk” it is 2.84oz tuna, 2.16oz water or oil – 43% water. If you paid a buck for that can, you spent 43 cents on fishy water.

    You’re better off buying tuna from one of the gourmet canners like Oregon’s Choice or Tuna Guys. It’s more expensive, but the cans are full of actual fish, and the quality is a lot higher.

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