Question: May one drain the water or brine out of cans of pickled cucumbers, olives, or tuna so that only the food item stays in the can or does this constitute the forbidden work of selecting on Shabbat?
Answer: In the previous Halachot, we have discussed the forbidden work of selecting on Shabbat. We have mentioned that it is only permissible to select on Shabbat when three conditions are met: One must do so by hand and not with the use of a utensil (such as a strainer), one must select the food from the waste and not the opposite, and one must do so in order to eat the food immediately (and not leave it for a later time). Now, let us deal with the question at hand.
The Reasoning to Prohibit This
In our situation, it would seem that it should be forbidden to drain the water from the canned food by tilting the can gently, for this seems like “selecting waste from food,” as the water (or brine), which one does not want, is considered the waste, and the cucumbers, olives, or tuna is considered food.
Draining the Water is Considered Selecting Food from Waste
Nevertheless, the great Poskim write that selecting in this manner is not considered selecting “waste from food”; on the contrary, since the food is what remains in the hand of the individual perform the selecting, he is actually selecting the food from the waste which is being spilled out.
Similarly, the Mishnah Berura writes (in his introduction to Chapter 319) that when the Torah prohibits selecting using a sieve or a strainer, this means that the prohibition exists only when the food falls through the holes of the strainer and the waste remains within it. However, if the opposite occurs, i.e. if the food is large and bulky and the waste is thin and it is what falls through the holes of the strainer, this is indeed considered selecting food from waste (it is nevertheless prohibited to do so on Shabbat for this constitutes selecting with the use of a utensil). Several great Poskim, among them Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l, write likewise.
May One Act Leniently and Drain the Water Even if this is Being Done for Non-Immediate Use
Based on this, the same would apply to our situation in that tilting the canned food so that only the water spills out would be considered selecting food from waste. Nevertheless, even when one selects food from waste, we have already established that doing so is only permissible when this is done in order to eat the food immediately; however, if one has in mind to partake of the can’s contents in a half-hour or more, one may not act leniently regarding this matter.
In any case, there is another reasoning that would allow complete leniency in our situation which is that the olives or cucumbers are quite discernible in that the stand separately from the brine they are in. Therefore, according to many Poskim, the prohibition of selecting on Shabbat does not apply here at all; even if one only plans to partake of them after a half-hour’s time, the letter of the law indeed permits one to act leniently and pour out only the water.
Maran zt”l rules likewise that one may act leniently and drain the water out of pickled olive and cucumber cans on Shabbat and this does not constitute the forbidden work of selecting.