BPA In Canned Foods: What You Need To Know
Surely you have heard about the chemical, bisphenol A (BPA). It’s everywhere. Used as a building block for polycarbonate, a near-shatterproof plastic, it is found in common household items and food and beverage containers. Studies show that it leaches into food and drink and many scientists report that it is toxic to our health. More than 90% of Americans have BPA in their bodies.
This article looks at the health risks associated with BPA, how to identify companies that still use BPA in their canned food products, and how to reduce your exposure.
What is bisphenol A?
Scientists developed it as a synthetic estrogen (mimics the structure and function of the hormone estrogen in the human body) in the 1930s and noted the possibility of carcinogenic properties.
In the 1950s, scientists discovered that the reaction of BPA with phosgene (carbonyl chloride) produced a clear hard resin known as polycarbonate. From that point on, its estrogenic properties were mostly ignored and it became widely used to manufacture plastics.
Who manufactures BPA?
Five companies make BPA in the United States: Bayer, Dow, Hexion Specialty Chemicals, SABIC Innovative Plastics (formerly GE Plastics), and Sunoco. Together, they profit more than $6 billion a year from the compound.
What products contain BPA?
The largest source of BPA is food and beverage packaging. BPA is a key component of the the anti-corrosive coating/resin epoxy used inside most metal food cans, many polycarbonate plastic bottles, soda and beer cans, and glass bottle tops manufactured in the United States each year.
Products such as cell phones, computers, dental filling sealants, thermal receipt papers, CDs and DVDS, household electronics, eyeglass lenses and sports equipment often contain BPA.
How common is BPA exposure?
Human exposure to BPA is widespread. Many studies have shown people to have significant levels of BPA in their urine and blood. The following studies provide examples of how BPA exposure is extensive among humans:
- The 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) used state-of-the-art analytical chemistry methods to measure the urinary levels of BPA in a representative sample of the United States’ population and found detectable levels of BPA in 93% of 2,517 urine samples from people six years and older.
- A study performed in 2011 by an Engaged Research public engagement project in collaboration with the Universty of Exeter, England showed that 86 per cent of 94 British teenagers (ages 17-19) had measurable levels of Bisphenol A (BPA) in their urine.
- The 2013-2014 federal study, carried out by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Niosh), looked at BPA levels in the urine of 78 American manufacturing workers employed at six companies that either manufacture BPA or use it to make other products. The employees who directly handled the BPA chemical had urinary total BPA concentrations averaging ~70 times higher than most United States’ adults.
- A 2017 study performed by the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan showed that employees who repeatedly handled receipts or other thermal paper in their jobs were at especially high risk for being exposed to dangerously high levels of BPA. They tested BPA levels in cashiers, waiters, bank tellers and many other employees who handled as many as 30 receipts per hour. The study showed that after their work shifts, the workers’ urine and blood levels of BPA were significantly higher than the general population.
What are health risks associated with BPA?
BPA is an endocrine disruptor that is linked to breast and prostate cancer, reproductive damage, nervous system impairment, diabetes, fetal developmental problems, brain disorders, early onset puberty, obesity, heart disease and cognitive behavioral issues like ADHD. In addition, BPA can alter the functioning of other hormone receptors like the thyroid.
BPA banned in baby bottles and formula
Due to growing evidence that developing fetuses and young children are most at risk for BPA toxicity, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups in 2012 and prohibited its use in infant formula packaging in 2013.
BPA added to Proposition 65 list of chemicals
In 2015, California officially listed bisphenol A on its Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer or harm to the reproductive system. The proposition requires businesses to warn Californians when they may be exposed to these chemicals.
The demand to end BPA use is high
The connections between BPA and the aforementioned health issues have caused people to demand that companies stop using it. Many food companies have pledged publicly to stop using BPA, but have they delivered?
Some food manufacturers have begun using BPA-free packaging, but several have not.
EWG reveals widespread use of toxic BPA
In 2014, The Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzed more than 250 canned food brands produced by nearly 120 companies to find out who still packed their food into cans coated with BPA-laden epoxy. The EWG discovered that 78 of these brands still used BPA to line all their canned products, 34 brands used BPA-lined cans for some of their products, and 31 used BPA-free cans for all of their products.
To read more about EWG’s 2014 full analysis of BPA in canned food, click below:
Brands using cans with BPA-based epoxy lining for all their products
Brands using BPA-free cans for all their canned products
EWG’s follow-up BPA survey and analysis
In 2015, the EWG conducted a follow-up market survey and analysis to assess the current status of BPA use among canned food companies and their products. Based on their products’ combined BPA status, EWG placed a select group of companies surveyed into one of four groupings: Best Players, Better Players, Uncertain Players and Worst Players.
Click the link below to read the 2015 survey results:
Searchable product list of products and brands that may contain BPA
In 2016, the EWG created the first user-friendly searchable product list of more than 16,000 products from 926 brands that may contain BPA. The list shows that toxic BPA is much more widespread than previously known: it’s in the lids of glass baby food jars, whipped topping spray cans, bottles of cooking oil and even beer and soda cans.
Click the link below to read the 2016 report:
Search the product list by clicking the link below:
Don’t see your favorite brand on these lists? Click below to search over 80,000 foods on the EWG’s Food Scores database:
How can you reduce BPA (bisphenol A) exposure?
A lot of forward progress needs to take place before BPA is no longer used in products. In the meantime, there are many things you can do to limit your exposure to BPA.
Tips for avoiding BPA exposure
Below are some helpful tips on how to minimize your exposure to BPA.
- Limit canned foods. Eat less packaged foods and more fresh and frozen fruits and veggies. When possible, and especially when pregnant or breastfeeding, limit the amount of canned food your family eats. Particularly avoid canned soup, soda, sauces, fruit, pasta, beans and infant formula.
- Avoid polycarbonate plastic. Hard, translucent plastic marked #7 is most likely polycarbonate, which leaches BPA, especially when heated. Use stainless steel water bottles instead of polycarbonate bottles. Only choose baby bottles made from glass or BPA-free plastics.
- Always choose BPA-free products. Only use foods and products that are stored and made from BPA-free liners and containers. Look for products that have the words ‘BPA-Free’ and ‘Non-BPA Lining’ on their labels.
- Call the manufacturer. If you are unsure if a product contains BPA, call the company and ask if their product(s) contain(s) BPA.
- Look at the EWG’s BPA Product Database. Search food and beverages in EWG’s BPA product list.
- Search the EWG’s Food Scores Database for alternatives. If food products are packaged in containers made with BPA, look for alternative products in EWG’s Food Scores. (Tip: use the BPA-free filter function when searching.)
- Buy packaged foods from companies that do not use BPA in their products. Visit EWG’s Best Players or Better Players lists for BPA-free brands and companies.
- Choose dried over canned. Use dried beans instead of canned.
- Rinse canned foods with water. If you can’t avoid packaged foods with BPA linings, rinse the food in water before eating. This may help lower the amount of BPA on items such as beans, vegetables and fruit. Rinsing also cuts back on other additives such as sodium and sugar.
- Limited microwave use. If you must use a microwave, never microwave plastic – use ceramic or glass instead.
- Never heat your food in the can. Avoid heating your food in the can. Always transfer the food to a stainless steel, cast iron or ceramic pot/pan and reheat and cook on the stovetop.
- Buy glass or stainless steel. When purchasing water bottles, buy glass or stainless steel. Follow the same tip for reusable coffee and tea mugs.
- Use glass to store food. Ditch plastic storage containers and use glass instead.
Comment and share
If you like this article about bisphenol A (BPA), please share it with your friends and family and don’t forget to comment with your thoughts and experiences below this post!
- Are you concerned about BPA?
- How do YOU limit your (and your family’s) exposure to BPA?
When she is not slaying fat and building muscle, Jennifer can be found trekking barefoot, traveling, cooking and refining her photography skills. She also enjoys reading and writing about food culture, history and the science of human movement.