What’s Lurking in Your Canned Goods? Probably BPA.

can with non BPA label

Curious to know what’s lurking in your pantry? Probably some BPA.

Bisphenol A (BPA) has been used for decades to make plastics and resins, and it’s commonly used in the manufacturing process of canned goods to prevent bacterial contamination and metal corrosion. Just scratch your fingernail or a fork against the inside surface of most empty canned goods and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

The trouble is that it acts a bit like synthetic estrogen, which poses concerns around reproductive and developmental health. In fact, many states are beginning to set limits on BPA use, especially for infant formulas and baby bottles.

In 2010, an article published by the National Workgroup for Safe Markets found high levels of the substance in a large percentage of canned goods. Around the same time, the FDA announced “some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants and young children” (FDA 2010). Even so, a ban was never pursued. Instead, the industry was asked to look for alternatives. (You can read the FDA’s official perspective in Food Contact Applications here, but basically they’re still looking into it.)

My Take

To me, there are some pretty convincing reasons to choose BPA-free products – not just for canned goods, but for all products. (Receipt paper contains residues, for example.) That said, I’m not planning to toss out the items in my pantry that aren’t BPA-free. I don’t use canned goods every single day, but do like having them around for when I’m in a pinch for time and in case of emergencies.

So how can we avoid BPA?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), the group that also publishes The Dirty Dozen, a list of fruits and vegetables that contain high levels of pesticides, recently compiled a database of 16,000 processed foods that may contain BPA. They’ve also posted a list of brands that are BPA-free: Muir Glen, Annie’s Homegrown, Sprouts Farmers Market, among others. I took a quick peek at some of the canned goods in my own pantry, and noticed a “non BPA” label prominently displayed on the front of a can of Simple Truth Organic tomato sauce, as well as a can of Rotel. But the label was missing from a can of Kroger Brand whole beets and an S&W can of diced tomatoes.

And there’s another alternative: Glass. Are you wondering about the lids? Yep, the lids on many products do contain BPA, but there’s less contact with the food itself compared to metal cans. And if you happen to be a home-canning pro, you’ll be happy to know that Ball and Kerr (the two most popular brands), are now manufacturing BPA-free lids as well.

Designing an eating style that focuses more on whole foods and less on packaged foods is an even simpler solution. Food choices are personal, and as a consumer I like knowing what’s in my food.

Despite the controversies, people who frequently consume canned foods have diets that are more nutrient-dense, especially for 17 essential nutrients including the shortfall nutrients (potassium, calcium and fiber), compared to those who don’t eat canned foods.

What are your thoughts on BPA? Please share in the comments below.