Bisphenol-A (aka BPA): What is it? Where is it? Why do we care?

Last week, I posted a little video tour of my kitchen in which I made some remarks about BPA in canned foods. I’ve been receiving all kinds of comments and questions about this issue, so I thought I’d address it directly.

Bisphenol-A, commonly known as BPA, is a component of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. It’s been the subject of much recent concern as studies have shown it to be an endocrine disruptor that builds up in our bodies over time. Low doses may cause chronic toxicity in humans, posing the highest risk to pregant women, infants, and young children.

Bisphenol-A only poses a risk if it leaches out of the resin and into our bodies. While much focus has been on polycarbonate water and baby bottles, there is a greater danger from the epoxy linings of canned foods because of the high heats at which they are processed.

BPA in Cans

NEARLY ALL CANNED FOODS CONTAIN BPA. This fact came as a surprise to some Fake Plastic Fish readers. To date, I am only aware of three brands of canned foods that have specifically found alternatives to BPA linings (thanks to FPF reader Christy B.) These brands are:

  1. Eden Organics beans. Note: Eden’s canned tomatoes do contain BPA.
  2. Henry & Lisa’s Natural Seafood
  3. Vital Choice

A December 26, 2008 article from Natural News confirms that as of this writing, these are the only BPA-free brands of canned foods.

There has been some misunderstanding about whether or not Trader Joe’s uses BPA in its cans because of some faulty information provided by its customer service reps. Please check out the discussion in the comments of this Mama Knows Breast blog post for some enlightenment about trusting the statements of customer service reps. Trader Joe’s cans do, in fact, contain BPA.

And what about Whole Foods? They have eliminated BPA-containing bottles from their stores, but Whole Foods’ Statement on BPA does not mention cans. The writer of the Family Health & Safety blog published a response from Whole Foods about a year ago stating that there is BPA in their cans. I personally left a phone message on January 9 with Whole Foods corporate office about BPA lining in 365 Brand cans. (512) 477-5566 x20020. I have not heard back yet. I believe we can safely assume that until Whole Foods publishes otherwise, their 365 Organics canned foods do contain BPA.

What about glass jars?

While buying food in glass jars may be safer than metal cans or plastic containers, there is still a small BPA risk posed by the metal lids. Yes, it’s true. Most metal jar lids contain a BPA lining. Still, the surface to product ratio is minimal compared to cans. My own life is not so completely plastic-free that I won’t buy pasta sauce in glass jars with metal lids. But I just thought I’d mention this because if I don’t, one of you will!

BPA in plastic bottles & containers

BPA is a monomer in polycarbonate plastics, including hard plastic water bottles, baby bottles, the large bottles on the top of water coolers, and the container found on your Cuisinart and other plastic food processor, blender, and juicer containers. (In April 2008, Vita-Mix announced a new BPA-free model, but previous models do contain BPA.) This is why I have mostly stopped using my food processor and opt instead to use my blender with glass pitcher. (I do wonder what kind of plastic is in the bottom.) Other possible items made from polycarbonate are hard plastic drinking cups, plates, and bowls.

Brita pitchers, by the way, are not made from polycarbonate and do not contain BPA.

CDs and DVDs are also made from polycarbonate, as are eye glasses and other hard plastic items. However, since we don’t eat many of these, I think we’re safe. They do carry the pollution hazards of all plastics, of course.

Polycarbonate plastic carries the #7 recycling symbol. But not all #7s are polycarbonate, unfortunately. #7 is a catch-all for plastics that don’t fit into the first 6 categories, including bio-based plastics. The suggestion from consumer groups is if you are trying to avoid BPA, it’s best to avoid all hard #7 plastics unless they specifically state they are BPA-free. Still, you won’t know what else could be leaching from them, will you? My personal suggestion is to opt for glass whenever possible.

If you do choose to use polycarbonate, you can minimize your risk in several ways: don’t fill them with hot foods, don’t wash them in the dishwasher, and don’t scratch them or use harsh detergents or abrasives on them. Rough handling breaks down the plastic and can cause the BPA to leach more than it otherwise might have.

BPA in your teeth?

Scary but true. One of my Green Sangha friends shared with me that her daughter was subjected to a dental sealant treatment at school without my friend’s permission. Wow. Times have changed. Most dental sealants do contain BPA, as do some composite fillings. Scientists are divided about whether they leach and whether the amount of leaching is harmful. But BPA-free alternatives do exist, and you can ask for them.

I’ve had a few teeth sealed, and they probably do contain BPA. However, I was happy to learn last year that the hard plastic Invisalign retainers I put in my mouth every night do not contain either BPA or phthalate plasticizers, according to the company’s FAQ.

Further Information on BPA

Here are a few blogs that focus a lot of attention on the issue of BPA:

Non-Toxic Kids
The Smart Mama
Enviroblog

Hope this helps.
 

29 comments
Beth Terry
Beth Terry

To follow up on the last comment, I wrote to LaCroix today and received the following email stating that they do use BPA in their cans, and while the company claims it is safe in the way they use it, I would not trust that. Hi Beth, We are committed to using ingredients and containers that meet or exceed all government health, safety and quality standards. Questions have been raised about bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used to make a type of plastic known as polycarbonate and epoxy resins which are sometimes used as can liners for food and beverage products. Our can suppliers rely on can linings, which may contain trace amounts of BPA, to protect food and beverages from direct contact with the can. However, these trace amounts are virtually eliminated during the curing process which results in the protective polymer coating. Our products are safe and pose no public health risk, including any alleged risk associated with BPA. We’ve listened to our LaCroix fans and their concerns about BPA. We pushed our supplier partners to change their ways. We are in the throws of a major test and moving rapidly toward BPA free cans. LaCroix Consumer Liaison Team 1800-834-9980

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Hi Karen. Check out that thread again. Another poster says she contacted the company and found out the cans are not BPA-free. I sent her a message asking if she would be willing to forward me the response. Maybe you could ask her too. Beth

Bpa Free
Bpa Free

The various research done on BPA does prove one thing: that continuous exposure to it can be harmful to health. So it is better to make sure that all plastic products one uses are BPA free. Nowadays, one can easily find products like BPA free water and milk bottles, baby  bottles, lunch boxes, containers, products for ones microwave, freezer or refrigerator, and even BPA free toys. So protect your health and that of your near  and dear ones by using only BPA free products.

Eric Brazelton
Eric Brazelton

Can I recycle a broken Cuisinart bowl? What # plastic is it? Thanks, EB

Cindy
Cindy

I wonder if one disgards the top few inches of food from a jar (eg. top few inches of tomato sauce) if this will reduce the BPA levels consumed? ie. is the greatest concentration of leached BPA (from the plastic lined metal jar lid) located in the food closest to the lid because it will make direct contact with the lid (as opposed to the food closer to the bottom of the jar? Or can the contents of the jar move sufficiently enough during shipping and handling that the BPA contamination is usually fairly uniform in its distribution? Or will BPA seep through the entire contents even though the exposure is at one end of the container? Thanks, Cindy

JPJ
JPJ

Or here is what the article says....really scientific but you can get the idea Bisphenol-A diglycidyl ether (BADGE) is used as an additive or starting agent in coatings for cans. The presence of hydrochloric acid in the organosol (PVC-based) lacquers results in formation of chlorohydroxy compounds of BADGE. These compounds, as well as BADGE itself, are potential migrants into the preserved food and are of toxicological concern. In the present investigation the presence of BADGE and the chlorohydroxy compounds (BADGE.HCl and BADGE.2HCl) in various kinds of canned foods from 30 brands have been determined by HPLC with fluorescence detection. BADGE was found in levels up to 5.1mg/kg in the food and only in food from cans containing BADGE.HCl and BADGE.2HCl in the lacquers. BADGE was found both in fish in oil and in fish in tomato sauce, however, the highest amounts were found in the fatty foodstuffs. BADGE.HCl and BADGE.2HCl were found in concentrations up to 2.4mg/kg and 8.3mg/kg, respectively. Unlike BADGE, BADGE.2HCl was found in similar concentrations in fish in oil and in fish in tomato sauce. In aqueous and acidic foodstuffs BADGE readily hydrolyses into mono- and dihydrolysed products (BADGE.H2O and BADGE.2H2O). In this study BADGE.H2O was not found in any food sample, whereas BADGE.2H2O was found in levels up to 2.6mg/kg. The Scientific Committee for Food (SCF) of the European Commission has proposed that a limit of restriction of 1mg/kg food shall include BADGE itself and BADGE.H2O, BADGE.HCl, BADGE.2HCl and BADGE.HCL.H2O. The present results indicate that the migration of BADGE.HCl and BADGE.2HCl, compounds with almost no data on toxicity, implies a greater problem than BADGE.H2O and BADGE.2H2O.

JPJ
JPJ

If the link doesn't work you can go to informaworld.com and search for this article Migration of bisphenol-A diglycidyl ether (BADGE) and its reaction products in canned foods

JPJ
JPJ

I submitted the above link...apparently it is not working so I am going to resubmit BTW-Here is the reply when I asked bionaturae about the PVC The lids of our jars do not contain BPA but they do contain a small percentage of PVC in the round seal that you see on the inner surface of the lid. This is used to secure the closure of the lid and at this time, we have been unable to use a PVC-free compound, although we continue to search for an alternative. We have found that all packaging materials have a negative aspect, but we make our best efforts to determine which is the less harmful. In our unique manufacturing process, the tomatoes are pasteurized before they are filled in the jar and without the lid. That means that when the lid is adhered, the temperature has already cooled. It may be possible for PVC to migrate into food by direct contact and at certain temperatures, but we are far below these temperatures and there is no contact of the tomatoes with the lid during our production cycle. We have never found any level of PVC in the finished product. You must also consider that the percentage of surface area of the lid compared to the glass is very small and we therefore feel glass bottles are the purest packaging. Other packaging options for tomatoes, mainly tin cans and Tetrapak, are entirely lined with plastics that have direct contact with a much higher percentage of the food. Thank you for your interest in this very important issue. Thank you for your interest in our products. All the best, bionaturae Customer Service Relations info@bionaturae.com

JPJ
JPJ

http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~conten... This is a website that says there is hydrochloric acid in PVC based organosol laquer. This is supposedly the chemical they use in the lids of the Bionaturae’s lid instead of BPA. Another website said there was chlorine in it...I guess pesticides may be better like the non organic Trader Joes in the box ...scary!

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Hi Nicky. Actually, there is one brand of tomato paste I know of that comes in a glass jar: Bionaturae http://www.bionaturae.com/tomato.html I have seen it at Whole Foods and other natural foods stores. You could also try making your own from sundried tomatoes if those are available. Sometimes I can get them from bulk bins. I haven't done it yet, but it's on my agenda. :-) And no, the BPA does not cook out. In fact, one of the problems with canned foods is that it's canned at such a high heat that it causes the BPA to leach out of the can into the food. .-= Beth Terry´s last blog ..Reducing Plastic Waste: March 2010 Collection Results =-.

Nicky Jones
Nicky Jones

I have a question. I love to cook things with tomato paste and different tomato sauces and I have gotten them in cans. I was wondering if because the tomato paste or sauce is in something that I cook does the BPA cook out?

AJ
AJ

I have been doing some webcrawling about BPA's and found your site. Consumer Reports did a study on canned foods and found that even cans marked "BPA Free" had BPA's. Also, cans that did not have the liners STILL tested positive for BPA's. Even if companies are in compliance with the FDA, the FDA was bought long ago. The thing that really bothered me about what I found is that canned soups and even the little plastic containers of pasta with the metal lids that you heat in the microwave have high levels of BPA's. In my personal digging I have found 1 brand of tomatoes that are sold in cartons but I feel slightly guilty since they can't be recycled. I have a lot of endocrine problems and am in a high risk group for breast cancer so I will be giving up all canned foods. We all vote with our dollars and since one company caught on with the tomatoes, more will too if we stop buying cans. Other countries have different food regulations so I'm looking for jarred foods in the international section of my local grocery store.

Susan Nash
Susan Nash

how do I find out if a soda can has BPA in it? We enjoy the cans of sparking flavored water, such as Klarbrum, an La Croix. I have felt pretty virtuous drinking these since they have no suger or artificial sweeteners. I would like to know how to research this...

Geoffrey Bard
Geoffrey Bard

Your statement about Trader Joe's isn't quite true. I contacted Trader Joe's about BPA in their cans this week, and got the following reply: from Web Customer Relations date Wed, Feb 10, 2010 at 9:55 AM subject RE: Trader Joe's Product Information Form mailed-by traderjoes.com Dear Mr. Bard, Thank you for contacting us. Canned items in our stores WITH BPA lining in the cans would include: tomatoes, tomato sauce & paste, soups, chili, and stew. Canned items in our stores that DO NOT have BPA lining in the cans include: seafood (tuna, salmon, herring, sardines, etc.), chicken, turkey & beef and now beans and corn. All of our products and packaging are within food safety guidelines and regulations. However, we also wanted to inform you that we do not have any plastic packaging with BPA. Regards, Nikki Customer Relations

Canadian
Canadian

Do canning jar lids (for glass Mason jars) contain BPA also? I imagine it must be the same substance as the pasta jars? I don't normally buy pasta sauce but I do can my own food and thought I was avoiding BPA by doing so. :(

Rosa
Rosa

Elle, the plastic bags ought to be safer than the can linings, just because they haven't been heated (as the cans are, in the sealing process) and there isn't any liquid for the chemicals to move through to get into the beans.Which doesn't solve the problem of general contamination from plastics in the environment, but does make your personal consupmtion of BPA a little.

Maya
Maya

After your previous BPA post I emailed Whole Foods (bottom line: cans have BPA in them) because I was concerned that I'd been given wrong information and here is the response I received:"Hello Maya,With few exceptions, the can linings of aluminum cans in our stores do contain bisphenol-a (BPA) in the lining material. This is true of most aluminum cans in the US and does include our Private Label products.We are actively assessing the safety of the packaging materials used in our stores, as we are committed to helping our customers protect themselves and their families and as such are concerned about the growing body of research which connects BPA and other estrogenic compounds to certain health effects. The FDA says that such materials are safe as a food contact surface. However, we are currently evaluating certain products and packaging materials on a variety of criteria, including endocrine activity, toxicity, recyclability and functionality. Our goal is to help our shoppers avoid endocrine-active materials in products and packaging where functional alternatives exist.We actively follow academic research regarding the endocrine activity of substances present in plastics, including BPA. When appropriate, we have stopped the sale of certain products and/or provided information to our customers about the products. For example, as of January 2006 we stopped selling baby bottles and child drinking cups made from polycarbonate plastic or other plastics with added phthalates because of the emerging scientific evidence on their risk.We are also actively supporting our suppliers' transition to non-BPA materials where functional alternatives exist. For example, the majority of the refillable individual water bottles in our stores were once made from polycarbonate plastic. Currently, nearly all of those bottles are made from other materials. Polycarbonate plastic is still used in certain large plastic bottles and aluminum can linings in our stores; we are working with manufacturers to strongly encourage the development of alternative products.We are closely examining the packaging materials used in our stores, and we will continue to search for the safest and most functional packaging materials for our stores.Best regards,RachaelRachael Gruver | Global Customer Information Specialist | Whole Foods Market | 550 Bowie Street | Austin, Texas 78703"

Chiot's Run
Chiot's Run

This is why I changed all of my fridge/freezer container to glass this past year (they do have plastic lids, but I make sure to not fill enough for food to touch them). This is also why I preserve some food myself (although I'm sure the Ball lids contains BPA liners). I'll be upgrading all of my canning jars to Weck with glass lids and rubber seals in the coming years. This is a great incentive to grow your own and cook from scratch. I'm assuming that if beans/dried goods come in plastic bags that the leaching isn't as much as with wet heat processed foods, but perhaps I'm wrong.

Elle
Elle

Since I do not have a near-by source for bulk foods right now, I am wondering what type of plastic the bag that dried beans come in? Is that plastic bag storing the dried beans "better" than the BPA lining the can?

Robj98168
Robj98168

What a let down! How can I enjoy my beenie weenies if I know there is BPA in them? Poop.ON happier news I recieved the Skoy Clothes today! Lvely little items- Can't wait until it is time to microwave them!

Christy B.
Christy B.

Very disturbing. I spent a small fortune removing the mercury fillings from my mouth. Now I wonder if I exchanged mercury for BPA? I wonder how fair of a trade that is?! I will be calling my dentist's office tomorrow.

joynodoubt
joynodoubt

Wow, that is very scary. Just like John, I thought only plastic bottles contained BPA. Its sad that almost all things we humans use/buy contain harmful chemicals. It just doesn't make sense!

Anarres Natural Health
Anarres Natural Health

In general, I believe that all plastics that aren't pure resin such as bakelite (which is the screw on bottom part of most blenders) leach something, mostly "plasticizerts" that are endocrine (hormone) disruptors.Just to make things bleaker, up here in Canadada, Eden foods says that one of their plants uses BPA in the can liners and the other doesn't - no way of knowing which you are getting!Grrr. Better soak and cook those beans myself. Ahh for lost innicense!

Green Bean
Green Bean

The teeth thing is tough. Composite fillings contain BPA and all kids of scary stuff. Amalgam fillings, on the other hand, contain mercury. Not sure which is the best bet.Your post, btw, is a great incentive to make your own or buy in bulk. I used to buy canned beans all the time. Now I just soak some bought in bulk overnight and toss them in the slow cooker. Saves money, saves packaging and apparently also saves BPA.

John Costigane
John Costigane

That is a shocker, Beth. I assumed only plastic bottles had this problem. Ideally, it should be banned worldwide.

Carol in Seattle
Carol in Seattle

Ok, assume I'm an idiot, but is the BPA in the can itself (part of the metal) or is it a lining?

Trackbacks

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    [...] and Lead in Food, Oh My! Published in January 14th, 2010 Posted by Dr Philhower in Blog Click here for a great synopsis of what BPA is and why it is not something you want to eat.  For most of us [...]

  2. [...] Here’s a link to an article about BPA: http://fakeplasticfish.com/2009/01/bisphenol-aka-bpa-what-is-it-where-is/ [...]

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