Canned items, even if they’re “BPA-free” may not be as safe as you think.
By now, many of us have heard of the harmful industrial chemical BPA (bisphenol-A, a synthetic estrogen) that was commonly, and in some cases still, used in the manufacturing of plastic containers such as water bottles. (BPA has been substituted in food contact materials with another harmful chemical called BPS (bisphenol-S), but more on this in a moment.) I hadn’t given a thought to canned foods, except for my decades-long habit of avoiding dented cans because of something my mom had said to me about the possibility of rust spoiling the food. Look inside a can of beans, for instance, and you’ll see a plastic lining. At this news, my mom might use her colloquial expression of “Oh for nice,” but is it so nice? No. The plastic lining found in canned goods is made of BPA. I didn’t know beans about cans, if you’ll pardon the pun.
If you’re like me and my family, you perhaps had not noticed the plastic lining inside of cans, or if you did, you didn’t think twice about it. The other day, I was cooking a new dish. I’m glad I read the entire recipe ahead of time, aside from wanting to avoid that last minute dash to the store for an overlooked item, because the writer of the recipe cautioned against using canned tomatoes. She said she uses tomatoes from glass jars or paper cartons to avoid the BPA commonly found in canned tomatoes. What? I was so grateful for the heads up. I immediately thought about the other foods in my cupboard. Did this mean all of my canned goods were suspect? Fortunately, similar to the changes within the packaging industry concerning plastic water bottles, changes have also been made regarding packaging in metal cans.
Akin to the now familiar and widespread popularity of “BPA-free” plastic bottles, some canned foods also have this phrase on their labels to provide supposedly comforting information to the consumer, but what did the packaging industry replace the BPA with you might wonder. Unfortunately, this is a typical case of good news and bad news. BPA, which has been implicated as a risk factor for heart disease, obesity, diabetes, some cancers, and reproductive problems, to name a few, is less and less prevalent. Good. The seemingly gleeful “BPA-Free” stickers on food products is in fact sad and dubious, however, when you know what BPA has been replaced with: BPS, yet another harmful material. BPS has a chemical structure similar to BPA–and with a similar host of problems. Bad. And, in a different type of insult to the consumer, some companies will not even disclose what they use in the manufacture of their bottles or can linings.
To avoid this rock-in-a-hard-place situation with BPA and BPS (BPF is also bad), seek food packaging that has the highest potential for safety. Glass jars and stainless steel containers, are among the best choices for safe food packaging. Metal glass jar lids do have a chemical coating, which is often a BPA-like substance, but this coating is covered with another material which is reported to be safe and keeps the BPA-like substance from coming into contact with the jar’s contents. Tetra Pak is another good packaging choice (Tetra Pak produces paper cartons not made with BPA epoxies). Metal-free ceramics are also safe to use for storing food at home.
Now that you know “BPA-Free” is not the safe-haven phrase we thought it was, and should have been, and much like the alarm bells that hopefully ring for you when you see the word “natural” being treacherously used on thousands of food products, watch out for its cohort BPS in a couple other places as well. It is used in coating the thermal paper of many grocery store and retailer receipts and can easily transfer to your skin. Also, avoid using the microwave with plastic containers that have BPA-like materials. The heat can separate the compounds, making them easier to ingest.
In a perfect world, we would easily and commonly be able to find, and afford, organic food that comes in packaging that’s safe for us–and good for the environment to boot. Until then, the search is challenging, but take heart–these ideally packaged products can be found here and there in some aisles of some grocery markets. “Oh for nice.” You are now more aware…see you there!
Have you considered making your food storage plastic-free?
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Photo: Wikimedia Commons