BPA in Canned Food - Still a Problem

Reprinted from an April 2016 Conservation Minnesota blog post.

Most people are aware that the hormone-disrupting chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) was used in plastic baby bottles and water bottles in the past. Consumer demand and state regulation, including in Minnesota, pushed the marketplace to safely eliminate BPA from baby bottles, baby food packaging, and sport water bottles, but the largest remaining exposure to toxic BPA is through consumption of canned food. Many food cans are lined with an epoxy resin that contains BPA, which is known to leach into the food. The CDC has detected BPA in 93 percent of people tested. Because BPA disrupts hormones in the human body, exposure to exquisitely low
levels during critical windows of development contributes to increased risk for breast and prostate cancer, infertility, type-2 diabetes, obesity, asthma, and attention deficit disorder.

A new report reveals that two out of three food cans tested were lined with toxic BPA. The report also identified the alternatives used in the cans without BPA in the linings. Buyer Beware: Toxic BPA & Regrettable Substitutes in the Linings of Canned Food is the work of six nonprofit organizations that tested nearly 200 food can linings for BPA and alternatives.

One hundred percent of the Campbell’s cans that were tested contained BPA-based epoxy, even though Campbell’s had announced four years ago that they would phase out BPA in their cans. Upon learning about the upcoming report, Campbell’s announced they are eliminating BPA in North American cans by mid-2017. Let’s hope they follow though with their promise this time.

In addition, 71 percent of Del Monte cans and 50 percent of General Mills’ cans tested positive for BPA. Collectively, 62 percent of private-label, or generic food cans from retailers analyzed in the study tested positive for BPA-based epoxy resins, including Albertsons, Kroger, Target, Trader Joe’s, Walmart, Dollar stores, and other stores.

It wasn’t all bad news - many companies have phased out BPA and disclosed alternatives used. Amy’s Kitchen, Annie’s Homegrown (recently acquired by General Mills), Hain Celestial Group, and ConAgra have fully transitioned away from BPA and have disclosed the BPA alternatives they’re using. Eden Foods reported eliminating the use of BPA-based epoxy liners in 95 percent of its canned foods and is actively looking for alternatives. Whole Foods has adopted the strongest policy of the retailers surveyed in the report, reporting that they are not currently accepting new canned items with BPA in the lining material.

However, even though retailers and national brands are phasing out BPA, the report notes that that the safety of substitute can linings is questionable. Can linings with PVC and polystyrene-acrylic are the most suspect due to the inherent toxicity of PVC and styrene. Identifying the safety of BPA alternatives is challenging, given the insufficient FDA review and approval of packaging additives, highly protected trade secrets in this product sector, and the need for shelf life food-specific product testing. More research is needed to determine the safety of these compounds and what may be migrating from the “alternative” can linings into food. We need national brands, grocery stores, big box retailers, and dollar stores to take leadership in eliminating and safely substituting BPA from all food packaging and labeling all chemicals used in can liners.

How to reduce your exposure to BPA in canned food

This report shows that exposure to toxic BPA in food can linings can be significant, but
you can take steps to reduce your exposure. One study found a 66 percent reduction in
levels of BPA in the body after eating fresh, packaging-free food for three days. To avoid
exposure to BPA in canned food:

  • Purchase fresh or frozen food
  • Look for brands and cans labeled BPA-free
  • Purchase food in glass or tetrapak containers

Tips to Reduce Chemicals in the Kitchen

Aside from BPA, other chemicals can lurk in the kitchen in plastics, cookware, and drinking water, providing daily exposures to chemicals associated with hormone disruption, reproductive, and developmental problems, and even cancer. Find out how to keep chemicals out of your kitchen by taking a few simple steps. See Top Tips for Healthy Kids – Chemicals in the Kitchen.