BPA-Free Cans – Safe or Toxic?

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Last updated on October 18th, 2017 at 10:50 am

BPA-Free Cans-Safe or Toxic?

 

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.

 

BPA-free cans

 

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.

BPA-free cans_Eden Foods

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,
  • oleoresin,
  • 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.

 

Jet.com sells Ortiz sardines at a much more reasonable price.

 

For more research into canned food, visit here.

BPA-Free Cans-Safe or Toxic?

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35 Responses

  1. “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.”

    In my experience, truer words have never been spoken. Thanks for a great article. Think I am going to start omitting canned products from our diet. It always bothers me whenever I open one, no matter how good the product inside. It’s a shame it has to be this way.

    Luckily for me, I won’t be having any more kids and I don’t care for sardines(:

  2. Just as an FYI, Eden Foods has eliminated coverage of all birth control from employees’ healthcare plans due to the religious beliefs of its CEO, Michael Potter. I will personally not purchase its products despite their relative safety due to its discriminatory practices.

  3. Lisa Krausz

    Thank you, Irina, for this great blog. Very helpful info. We do give our kids Wild Planet sardines, so this is helpful info. We will have to decide what to do there. Oy! Also, I am wondering about the cardboard bowls used at Chiptotle, which has now gone GMO-free, but the bowls seemed to be lined with some shiny coating. I am suspecting this isn’t very good either. Thank you for your great work!

    • Yep. You might be onto something. I am planning to look into that soon.

      • I think some of the grease-proof containers (including pizza boxes and some of the shiny cardboard) consists of non-stick coating PFOAs–associated with a number of adverse effects, even if you don’t heat them up. They are also the coating on Post-It notes.

  4. I try to avoid canned foods as well. You are right – it isn’t that hard just sometimes more time consuming, which is fine 🙂
    I would love to know what is in the lining of the alternatives – soups in boxes and tuna in pouches, etc.

    • Ok, I will get to it. 🙂 Thanks, Dana.

    • It’s an interesting balance to think about. The tuna Dana mentions has high levels of pollutants (being a large fish) from all the different ways we use plastics in our society. So any packaging that is not reusable, plastified boxes, or pouches or what have you, will impact our health ultimately. It’s important not to look just at the packaging that the food comes in. Convenience is the problem.
      On the other hand, when you make your own soup, or tomato sauce, maybe make a large batch, freeze, and trade with a friend–perhaps even buy local produce–there are multiple layers of benefits, hopefully enough to offset the time you spend cooking!

      • Thank you, Dr. Ashe! It is SO heart-breaking to know that our oceans and rivers are so polluted now that there is no safe fish. It is a matter of a degree now. The bigger fish, the more toxins it was able to accumulate. When we were in Hawaii, we visited the Maui Ocean Center. The scientists there told us about the devastating pollution of the oceans. One of the scientist told me to avoid eating shellfish altogether because shellfish get their nutrients from the water along with all the industrial chemicals we produce. I love mussels and oysters and clams. I guess no more. So sad. I came back inspired to do whatever I can to stop further pollution. When we buy a product, we have to think about our oceans, rivers, air, and soil. What are leaving behind to our children?

  5. Thank you for all you do! I feel like I read about it once on a blog but like you found, it’s sometimes difficult to get information. I do use the boxed stuff but I’m wondering if that’s any better.

  6. I would say the thing I buy the most is organic chicken broth. I know I need to make my own :(. So pacific brand and Swanson and wild oats. I think the box packaging is from the same company for most of these foods. I think it’s called Tetra Pak. I feel like I’ve even seen this brand on certain milk cartons. I hope that helps!

  7. what about natural value cans? any idea?

    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000LKVIEG/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=LIJIFY3NNH9J&coliid=I250JWL66JHOPD&psc=1

    • Thank you so much for this question, Martin! Since I published this post, I have wanted to start researching safe coconut milk products. But nobody asked me this before. I will get on this as soon as my schedule permits. Stay tuned. ~Irina

  8. looking forward to learning more and please let us know if you find other safe cans of coconut milk that might be just as good or better. I also wonder if some canned coconut milk might be fresher than others…

  9. for vegetarians, salads sometimes really need more than just a hardboiled egg for protein. can you maybe fine us some BPS free garbanzos? are these Westbrae Natural Garbonzos REALLY BPA Free, for example….

    http://amzn.to/1Q85emJ

    I also wonder if you can find out if they use something else that might be even worse for the new bpa-free cans. Anyway, so far, I found that one can of garbanzos, Westbrae Natural. Looks great!

  10. those are cool, but twice as expensive as the Westbrae Natural. I wonder if Westbrae Natural is ok, they also claim to be BPA free on their cans.

  11. scratch that. they are the same price really, the Eden cans are twice as big! Thanks so much, I’m going to order some of the Eden.

  12. Any progress on the canned coconut milk research? Eden Organic doesn’t seem to carry it, to my knowledge.

    Natural Value? or Native Forest? Those look like the two choices on amazon…which do you think is safer? Which is fresher? I buy coconuts fresh but would be great to have some high quality canned stuff if it was clean and healthy and reasonably fresh? Does coconut milk stay fresh in a can? I’m finding that coconut OIL does have a shelf life definitely, especially once it’s opened, not sure about canned coconut milk yet. Of course once you open the can, the game is afoot, but if you stored away 100 cans for a rainy day, how long would that coconut milk still be yummy.

    Just to take a random segue…I know the ancient Egyptians were able to preserve some foods for 1000’s of years, like licorice I think. I wonder how they did it? (non-bpa ceramic jars?) just kiddin, but I am interested in how they preserved food for 1000’s of years successfully, they seem to have been amazing with preserving food somehow.

  13. reading up on this. the cans use a 90 minute high heat process. Wilderness Family Naturals has a different packaging technology that only uses high heat for less than 6 minutes. Isn’t high heat, high heat? You don’t want ANY high heat really do you? Still looking for the best option here, these are all pretty good, not sure if they are GREAT yet…

  14. here’s the new champion! My new favorite….I’m not sure if they use high heat yet…

    http://www.tropicaltraditions.com/coconut_cream_concentrate.htm

  15. I use Native Forest, they are supposedly BPA-free, but I have done no further research into it. i order bulk packages of it on Amazon when the price is right. I’d be curious to know if I’ve substituted one demon for another.

  16. Irina Webb

    Hi all! I posted some new information about BPA-free canned coconut milk, cartons, and coconut milk in glass jar. Check it out here: https://ireadlabelsforyou.com/yummy-and-safe-coconut-milk/
    ~Irina

  17. Hey! This was super helpful! Thank you!

    Quick question– do you think it’s harmful to eat food out of cans if it’s something like chips? I understand how the metal toxins would leak into beans, tomato sauce, etc…. but something like chips are pretzels bought in a metal can would be fine…. right?

    Thanks again!

    • Hi, Val: I would say chips would provoke much less leaching. You are right fatty or acidic food provoke more leaching versus dry foods. Stay in touch. The best way to keep in touch is by subscribing to the blog. Let me know if I can help you with anything else. ~Irina

  18. Talk about an eye-opener! I have been pretty proactive in choosing better options for several years now, and ALWAYS look for BPA-free cans… But wow. I had no idea! Looks like I will be looking for glass jarred alternatives and finally trying to do dried beans (such a daunting task! LOL)

    Thank you for this info!

  19. hi, i’ve now given up sardines in tins after hearing about bpa,i’m from the uk and my local supermarket fish counter sells fresh sprats at £3 a kilo very tasty in fact cheaper and tastier than tinned sardines and totally free of bpa

  20. Would love to see them switch to glass jars instead of cans, healthier and great to reuse.

  21. Hi Irina,

    I was wondering what you think about Polar sardines in glass jars. They are quite a bit cheaper that Oritz.

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07347V34F?psc=1

    Thank you

  22. Hi, Elena:

    I don’t like Polar sardines because they are smoked. I try to minimize eating smoked food as it is not good for the health. I found Ortiz sardines sold at this retailer cheaper than on Amazon. ~Irina

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