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Last updated on October 18th, 2017 at 10:50 am
After I published an article about how to determine if plastic has Bisphenol A (BPA), I received a lot of questions as to whether BPA-free cans are safe. As you may have noticed, a lot of cans now feature a BPA-free claim on their label. At first, that made me happy to see that the market responded to consumer demand for BPA-free cans. But when I dug deeper, this is what I found out about BPA-free cans.
What is wrong with BPA?
First, a reminder about the problems with BPA is in order. BPA has been shown to mimic estrogen in people and animals, which may lead to a number of health problems, from obesity and infertility to heart disease and cancer. Animal studies reveal that exposure to low doses of BPA during pregnancy can permanently affect fertility, behavior and body size of the fetus, and can predispose animals to later life cancers. A 2015 human study showed that BPA exposure during pregnancy may cause oxidative stress in mother and child, which may lead to diabetes and other metabolic disorders as well as cardiovascular diseases.
After I learned that, I realized that BPA exposure might help explain how people who eat healthy and exercise regularly suddenly get sick with diabetes or some type of cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, BPA and other toxins are often overlooked in the conversation in conventional medicine and even by holistic medicine and nutrition practitioners.
Are BPA-Free Cans of Wild Planet sardines safe?
As a result, I have made an effort to stop eating canned food altogether. It wasn’t as hard as you might think. The only canned food I continued eating was Wild Planet sardines, taking solace in the statement “No BPA used in can lining” on its label. One day I called the company to learn more. I asked the company’s representative the question “What is used instead of BPA in the lining?” a few times, hoping for more information. The long story short, I was told that it is proprietary information. I was also told that they test for BPA but they don’t have any test results to show. I asked if they test for other members of the bisphenol family such as bisphenol S (BPS), bisphenol A diglycidyl ether (BADGE), bisphenol F (BPF), bisphenol F diglycidyl ether (BFDGE) and bisphenol B (BPB). I was told no. There is emerging evidence that other bisphenol family members share hormone-disrupting qualities.
And here is something funny. During the conversation, the representatives assured me over and over that their cans adhere to European regulations. But it turned out she did not know whether BPA is covered by the European regulation. All in all, it was not a reassuring conversation. Not even a little bit. And by the way, their acidic products, such as shrimp with citric acid and sardines in tomatoes sauce, are packaged in cans with BPA-containing epoxy lining.
Why do companies switch to BPA-free cans?
Here is my guess as to what happened. In May 2014, BPA was added to California’s Prop. 65 list, a list of chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. When a chemical is on the Prop. 65 list, and it exceeds a “safe” dose (defined by California), manufacturers are required to disclose to the public the presence of the chemical. To date, I am not aware that California has determined what amounts to a safe dose of BPA. But, I think manufacturers have figured out that at some point, they may have to label their cans with a Prop. 65 warning. No literate consumer would be likely to buy any food in a can with such a warning, and so manufacturers have simply decided to get ahead of the curve and discontinue the use of BPA in cans altogether. Which is a nice start, but is the alternative safe?
More of us need to ask them and let them know that we won’t buy their products until they do. Believe me, they will listen.
A lot of times, what happens is once a chemical becomes notorious for its harm, manufacturers easily switch to another chemical that is often as harmful as the original one but which has not received the same notoriety.
What are BPA substitutes?
In 2015, the Environmental Working Group surveyed 252 brands produced by 119 companies between January and August 2014 and discovered that only a handful of companies disclose what they use instead of a BPA-containing epoxy lining, and the descriptions are vague. For example, a few companies indicated that they use linings made of vinyl and polyester. To me, that does not sound comforting. Among other things, vinyl may contain phthalates that are far from being less toxic than BPA.
The only company that is open about materials used in their cans is Eden Foods. Their cans have oleoresinous e-enamel, which increases the cost of their cans, and ultimately their product. It is a mixture of oil and resin extracted from plants such as pine and balsam fir. Eden Foods have been on the forefront of advocating against BPA cans, making the switch in 1999. The difficulty is that oleoresinous e-enamel lining does not work for highly acidic foods such as tomatoes. For them, Eden Foods switched to glass jars, or they use a lining with 5 ppb of BPA for products including tomatoes, which is still above the EWG recommended level of 1 ppb.
In 2009, Consumer Reports tested canned foods, including soups, juice, tuna, and green beans, and found that almost all of the 19 name-brand foods they tested contained some BPA. They also tested two products that manufacturers had claimed were packaged in BPA-free cans and found BPA in both of the foods. Although tests of the inside of the cans found that the liners were not epoxy-based, Vital Choice’s tuna in BPA-free cans was found to contain an average of 20 ppb of BPA and Eden Baked Beans averaged 1 ppb.
What should we do?
So what is the conclusion? The best is to avoid canned food altogether, especially if you are pregnant or may become pregnant. If you find that avoiding canned food is too hard and stressful, Eden Foods BPA-free cans are your best bet; please buy them and use your market influence to encourage other manufacturers to use the cans made with oleoresinous e-enamel, which may ultimately reduce their cost. By the way, Eden Foods BPA-free cans are sold at Thrive Market at wholesale prices. Note that you have to register to view Thrive products but your free trial membership won’t start until you make a purchase.
As for sardines, I will refrain from eating Wild Planet sardines. My decision is based on the fact that I am open to having another baby. Instead, I will try these sardines I found on Amazon packaged in a glass jar. I agree with Amazon reviewers that the price is too high but in my opinion the price of having a baby with birth defects is much, much higher.
For my research into canned coconut milk, visit here.
Update as of April 2016:
There is progress! The good news is that canned food manufacturers are now more open about alternative can linings used. In the report Buyer Beware: Toxic BPA and regrettable substitutes in canned food, 5 major can lining types were identified:
- acrylic resins,
- BPA-based epoxy,
- polyester resins, and
- polyvinyl chloride (PVC) copolymers.
The bad news is that we know very little about the additives used in these linings and about the amounts of chemicals that may leach into food. Sadly, the government regulations are not strong enough to motivate manufacturers to find safe alternatives because manufacturers only have to label ingredients – they do not have to disclose all substances that with which food comes into contact on the label. Luckily, consumer pressure does work and the first step is the disclosure of the alternative lining. The next step would be to ask what the additives in the linings are.
By the way, as it turned, according to the email sent by a Wild Planet representatives to one of my blog readers, the lining of Wild Planet sardines cans is made from PVC resin. This is clearly a regrettable substitute, because PVC is a polymer made from vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen.
You might want to try these sardines instead.
My favorite sardines are Ortiz. They are sold on Amazon but the price is high.
For more research into canned food, visit here.
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