Letter Re: Advice on Storing Sterno-Type Canned Fuel

Dear Jim,
Does Sterno style fuel have a shelf life? I have come across two cases (48 cans) of Don brand Heat Wick (WX-6) six hour fuel – the type used in catering. The price for the lot is $5. Seems like it’s too good to be true. Is it worth it? Are there special storage issues involved with this type of fuel?

Thanks for all the info you put on your site every day. I am using it to get my family ready! Thanks again, – Beth F.

JWR Replies:
That is a great price! The cans should last almost last indefinitely, if they are well-sealed. If the sealed cans emit no odor when purchased new, then odds are that they have intact seals and hence are not out-gassing any alcohol vapors. But if they do smell like Sterno, then you can bet that they have a limited shelf life. The best way to test for minor leakage is to take a random half-dozen can sample and leave them in a sealed Tupperware-type container for 48 hours. At the end of 48 hours, open the Tupperware and take a sniff. If there is no noticeable alcohol smell, then you’ll know that those cans have tight seals. OBTW, if there is an alcohol smell, all is not lost. You can then try dipping the tops of the cans in melted paraffin, to establish a secondary seal. (This is a method that was developed years ago, to extend the storage life of canned tobacco and some other goods stored in two-piece cans.) Following the paraffin dip procedure, you should repeat the 48 hour sniff test.