You may have heard of the controversial chemical bisphenol A (BPA), which is used in the lining of cans and many plastic food containers, and wondered how many cans in your pantry actually have it. The answer: More than you think.
According to a new study, BPA can be found in a daunting two out of three of your canned goods. Some brands, though, are more notorious for selling cans with the chemical, which has been implicated in a host of illnesses, including cancers, Type-2 diabetes, obesity, and infertility. Campbell’s products, for example, were the biggest offenders, with all 15 sampled cans containing BPA-based epoxy. The Ecology Center research found 71 percent of Del Monte cans and 50 percent of General Mills cans tested positive for the BPA epoxy resins.
No BPA resins were detected in any of the cans tested from Amy’s Kitchen, Annie’s Homegrown (which was recently acquired by General Mills), Hain Celestial Group, ConAgra, or Eden Foods.
In order to conduct the study, researchers from environmental and health advocacy groups collected 192 cans from major retailers in 19 states. They hauled the cans into the lab, rinsed them off and scraped samples from the lining to see what chemicals could potentially be leaching into vegetables, fruits, soups, and beans from can coatings. The results: About 67 percent, or 129 of the cans, contained BPA epoxy.
"Food manufacturers refused to tell us what chemicals were in their cans, so we reverse engineered and tested them ourselves," says Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center’s HealthyStuff.org research director. "Since they can’t hide these chemicals from consumers anymore, perhaps they will be more motivated to use safer materials.”
The new analysis turned up BPA in cans from companies that, in the past, have claimed to eliminate BPA. Five years ago, Kroger vowed to ban BPA from its receipts and canned foods, but 62 percent of Kroger’s cans tested positive for the chemical.
Amid the report’s findings, Campbell’s and Del Monte have announced they’ll rid their cans of BPA. Campbell’s estimates it will eliminate BPA in cans by mid-2017, and Del Monte says starting in May, its cans will be BPA-free.
Consumer demand for BPA-free products and food has mounted for years, gaining major momentum around 2008, when the chemical was found in Nalgene bottles — the water bottles of choice on hiking trails and in climbing gyms. The company stopped making bottles with BPA.
In 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned BPA from baby bottles, but has stood by claims that BPA is safe in food at its current levels.
As more companies strip BPA from their plastics and can linings, health advocates are questioning whether the alternatives are any better. The canned-food study found about 18 percent of retailers’ private-label foods and 36 percent of national brands were lined with a PVC-based copolymer, which is made from vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen.
If you’re concerned about chemicals leaching into your foods, the best thing you can do is buy and eat fresh food when you can, says Gillian Miller, a staff scientist with the Ecology Center’s HealthyStuff.org research center. Admittedly, this poses challenges for those in food deserts. Frozen foods or foods in aseptic packaging can serve as alternatives to canned goods, says Miller.
“The less processing a food has gone through and the fewer packaging materials it has touched, the less likely it is to have chemical contaminants,” Miller says.