Vacuum chamber saving food bank's dented cans

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCIV) -- One of the Lowcountry Food Bank's volunteers has an invention that has put more than 100,000 cans of food into the hands of the hungry rather than in the trash.

Richard Dabruzzi gives every can the same scrutiny, but never passes a quick judgment.

"It's perfectly good," he says, holding up one dented can. "It's just got an ugly container."

For the last several years, Dabruzzi has separated the good from the ugly.

"We take our suspect cans in our first layer of sorting and separate them into 'A' cans, which are virtually great cans except for a small body dent, or 'B' cans, which are a little more dented," he said. "You wouldn't pass down without being looked at again."

Volunteers don't want to pass the dented cans down because they could leak and the contents could be tainted.

"Here's a can right here that clearly has a seam dent in it," he says, studying another donated can.

They wouldn't have had a chance at being saved several years ago. But Dabruzzi had an "A-ha!" moment one day.

"I was working one week and clearly we were throwing away every other can, and I'm looking at these cans and I said, 'This is crazy. There's nothing wrong with these cans,'" he said.

Dabruzzi knew more food could be saved if he found a fool-proof test.

"We had to come up with a non-constructive test, a test that would test the cans without destroying a good can," he said. "Again, a light bulb moment popped into my head and I said, 'Vacuum.'"

With a little planning and design, and Dabruzzi's background in engineering, the vacuum chamber was created.

"It vacuum chamber actually puts the cans in a negative vacuum situation. It stresses the cans to the point that it would leak out when under full vacuum," Dabruzzi said.

The machine completes its task in minutes and the results are plainly visible. A leaking can soils a blotter and the smell from the food inside the can comes out.

While the cans that leak will be tosses, the vacuum chamber has proven time and again that good food can be found within not so pretty containers.