CODE OF PRACTICE FOR THE PREVENTION AND
REDUCTION OF INORGANIC TIN CONTAMINATION
IN CANNED FOODS
History of use of tin
1. Tin is a soft, white, lustrous metal with an atomic weight of 118.7 and the chemical
symbol Sn after its Latin name, Stannum. It has a relatively low melting point (231.9
°C) and is highly resistant to corrosion, which makes it an ideal element for the
protective coating of metals. Over 50% of the world’s tin production is used for
plating steel or other metals.
2. Today some 15 million tonnes of tinplate are produced each year using rapid and
highly sophisticated production methods. These methods are able to control steel
thicknesses and tin coating masses to within the extremely fine tolerances
required for modern can making processes such as high speed welding.
Tin as packaging for canned food
3. Tin is used to protect the steel base from corrosion both externally (aerobic
conditions) and internally when in contact with foods (anaerobic). Under the
anaerobic conditions expected inside an internally plain processed food can, tin
will normally behave as the sacrificial anode, dissolving very slowly whilst
protecting the steel base from corrosion and creating a reducing environment in
the can. It is this mechanism that has enabled the plain tinplate can to maintain its
long history and proven track record of providing wholesome food on a year
round basis and safe storage for long periods of time.
4. The later development of can linings (lacquers) enabled different types of food
products to be satisfactorily packed. For example, some highly pigmented foods
(beetroot, berry fruits) have their colours bleached by tin dissolution and are best
protected from contact with tin by use of linings. A small number of food products
(e.g. sauerkraut) have a different corrosion mechanism, in which the tin does not
behave sacrificially and direct corrosion of the steel base can occur. These...