Kicking the Can - Shop for BPA Free Food


Canned goods in many ways mark the advent of the modern food system. Prior to this 18th-century invention, any travel was dicey for most fresh food. The can introduced the term “shelf-life” and, along with refrigeration, the ease of a modern life that now includes grocery shopping, new food marketing schemes, Popeye, and a great way to make persimmon pudding. Yet the can is not without faults.

One newly noted danger is the fact that the linings of most cans are made with BPA, a known endocrine disruptor with links to reproductive abnormalities, obesity, high blood pressure and even some cancers. Suddenly, we start to wonder even more about Popeye’s super strength. According to one recent Newsweek article roughly 75% of canned products contain BPA linings. Even though some brands have publicly confirmed that they are are BPA-free and some companies have committed to going BPA-free there has not been a way to know which ones contain BPA and which ones don’t...until now.

The good folks at Environmental Working Group (EWG) are here to help us out. Their recent report BPA in Canned Food: Behind the Brand Curtain surveyed and communicated with 252 canned food brands to find out the details of their BPA use. A little less shocking than that 75% Newsweek number, EWG reported 44% of brands using the controversial material. However, there was a dearth of self-reporting from these companies, which could have skewed the results.  EWG found that “43 percent of all brands gave ambiguous or incomplete answers to questions about their use of BPA and/or did not respond to EWG’s queries.” If we were to assume that these non-reporting companies all used BPA, then the true percentage of BPA-lined cans could be as high as 87%.

EWG also describes a sort of “wild-west” scenario when it comes to BPA-free labels. There are no federal or otherwise agreed upon standards, oversights, or enforcement regimens as to what “BPA-free” means, so companies can essentially slap a label on a can with little fear of accountability. As they describe in the report, canned goods companies and the U.S. government have a long way to go before we are fully able to make well-informed, health-conscious decisions about the cans we buy.  

The U.S. canning industry is at a critical turning point. Strong and clear regulatory guidance and increased transparency and accessibility of information are sorely needed so that consumers can be assured that cans are truly BPA-free and that the alternatives being substituted for BPA-based epoxy are safe."

The public cannot rely on current federal laws that regulate chemicals and food additives to ensure that BPA replacement chemicals are safer than BPA-based materials.

Luckily, thanks to EWG’s research we have a much higher chance of finding safer cans. Check out EWG’s list of BPA-free products or its Food Scores database for help.

Image via Flickr


Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

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