Canned food has rings stamped on the lids. What (or who) has the code?

Here is a photo with crab and tuna tops. Maybe the better word would be "indentations"?

photo of can lids


2 Answers 2


There’s no hidden code in the rings, they are just there to stabilize the thin metal.

A flat sheet is weaker and more flexible than one with ridges - the same reason why roof and wall metal is usually corrugated. On taller cans you will often also find corrugated areas on the sides of the can, hidden by the paper label.

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    For cans which are sealed before being cooked or sterlilized by heating, the rings also give better resistance to the internal pressure generated. A flat top can only bend a small amount before the seam joining to the side of the can will break. A corrugated top can bulge upwards without breaking.
    – alephzero
    Commented Sep 15, 2021 at 3:16
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    @MaxD Not necessarily against bulking (see alephzero’s comment and note that I didn’t write “during storage” or something like that), but as you wrote, increase overall stability in the lid part. Can lids sold for home canning (random example) come with the ridges already. It not only makes them flat, but prevents warping during transport, storage and running them through the machinery.
    – Stephie
    Commented Sep 15, 2021 at 8:28
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    @FedericoPoloni I linked to a seller that offers empty cans (e.g. for home butchers and small-scale producers). They can be filled with whatever suits the user…
    – Stephie
    Commented Sep 16, 2021 at 7:26
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    @FedericoPoloni: Not that I suspect there to be any encoded information, but that's not a proof at all, as long as we don't know what the code is for. Rather than related to the contents, the ring pattern might just as well indicate the type of production machinery used to create the can (and, for what it's worth, it's well possible it does, albeit unintentionally so). Commented Sep 16, 2021 at 8:29
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    @O.R.Mapper These rings are clearly messages from Q to the pillow guy. Just keep staring at the cans and you might crack it.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Sep 16, 2021 at 14:51

While it is absolutely correct that the beads and panels in a can end add strength and rigidity, there can be encoded information stamped into the can ends, but it's probably not what you're thinking it is.

The presses which stamp the ends from sheets or coils of pre-coated metal contain multiple dies. Each time the press cycles, the dies stamp out a number individual can ends. End presses can contain 6, 8, 10, 12 or more individual dies and each cycle produces that number of individual can ends.

Presses in a factory

In some cases the individual dies are identified by a small ID mark in the pattern of beads (rings) and panels that are stamped into the ends. The pattern of beads and panels themselves don't mean anything, but the ID marks found in the beads can convey meaning. The pattern of ID marks varies from press to press, and manufacturer to manufacturer. Many ends don't even have these marks, but many do.

The ID marks tell the people who run the end presses which die, and which machine, the end came off of. They can also identify which sets of dies are installed in the machine as that can vary depending on metal thickness, maintenance requirements, etc. and for keeping sets together appropriately and so on.

Here's a disappointingly poor picture from the Canadian government which almost shows the ID marks on a can end:

Parts of a metal can end

The first "bead" of the gold-colored end in the bottom right portion of the graphic shows a couple ID marks a the end of the arrow.

Here's another picture from the same source that shows an ID mark on a can end:

enter image description here

The ID mark is the one at roughly the 10-o'clock position. The "feature" at the 12-o'clock position is a defect.

For anyone who is interested, more information from the Canadian government regarding the inspection of food cans can be found here... (I used to be a food can inspector in a previous life and this is an excellent summary of can defects, their causes, and the manufacturing process in general. I encourage all "foodies" to check it out! Guaranteed to slow up your next visit to the grocery by at least 30 minutes....)

Apart from keeping track of the manufacturing processes, machine conditions, etc. there's no "code" which translates to the contents of the can or the filling operations.

The same end presses are potentially used to make a variety of can ends, for a variety of foods, so any ends made on a particular press could end up on anything in the grocery provided the thickness of the metal and the coating substance meets the requirements for the food inside.

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    Love it when I learn something new! <marches off to check the contents of my pantry>
    – Stephie
    Commented Sep 16, 2021 at 15:10

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