A New HealthyStuff Report: Buyer Beware

Toxic BPA & Regrettable Substitutes Found in the Linings of Canned Foods

BPA bans across the U.S.

Over the past twenty years, more and more consumers have actively sought out products with BPA-free packaging. Bisphenol-A (BPA) has been banned in baby bottles, infant formula packaging and sports water bottles in five U.S. cities and counties, and thirteen states. Manufacturers nationwide have voluntarily removed this common plastic ingredient from these products as well.

But, BPA is still allowed—and commonly used—in canned food linings.

Low dose makes the poison

Shoppers are concerned about BPA because of its known estrogenic qualities. First considered for use as female hormone therapy in the 1930s, the chemical didn’t gain in popularity until the 1950s and ‘60s. The discovery that it stabilizes and hardens plastic led to BPA becoming a common basic ingredient—or “building block”—for polycarbonate (popular for reusable bottles and containers) and epoxy resins (for can linings).

By the 1990s, scientists discovered another characteristic of BPA: a portion remains in the finished polymer and doesn't stay put. Containers and coatings release small amounts of the chemical. But, if only small amounts are getting into our food and drink, what is the harm?

Studies show that exposure to very low doses (parts per billion and even parts per trillion) of the chemical—levels comparable to the amount to which an average person can be exposed through food packaging—may increase the risk of health problems all too familiar today. Breast and prostate cancer, infertility, type-2 diabetes, obesity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have all been linked to BPA exposure.

Food packaging: the number one source of BPA

What if BPA was no longer used in food packaging? Could we significantly reduce our exposure to BPA? Researchers say “yes.” A recent study showed an average drop of 66% in BPA levels when study participants ate a diet void of known contact with BPA-containing food packagings, such as canned food and polycarbonate plastic. The study suggests that removing BPA from food packaging will remove a major source of BPA exposure.

Some national food brands have, in fact, stated their cans are BPA-free. Some have pledged to use BPA-free can linings in the future. But many questions remain. Can we be sure “BPA-free” on the outside means BPA-free on the inside? What is being used in place of BPA? How safe are the BPA replacements?

HealthyStuff.org, along with five national partners, sought to answer these questions and identify what chemicals are lining the canned food on our store shelves.

Buyer Beware report

For the report, Buyer Beware: Toxic BPA & Regrettable Substitutes in the Linings of Canned Food, HealthyStuff researchers analyzed the interior coatings of can bodies and lids of nearly 200 canned foods collected in nineteen states and Canada. The cans tested came from major national brands and private label retailers.

The testing revealed 67% (129 of the 192 cans analyzed) contained BPA epoxy in one or both of the body and lid. Besides BPA, four major coating types were identified: acrylic resins, oleoresin, polyester resins, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) copolymers. The PVC-based copolymer is made from vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen and was found in 18% of retailers’ private-label food can linings and 36% of national brands.

Leading brands

According to the report, Campbell Soup Company promised its shareholders in 2012 to phase out the use of BPA in can linings and claims to be making significant progress in this effort. Yet, 15 out of 15 (100%) Campbell’s products tested positive for BPA epoxy resins.

Del Monte Foods is one of the country's largest producer, distributor, and marketer of canned foods with approximately $1.8 billion of annual sales. Ten out of the 14 (71%) Del Monte cans analyzed tested positive for BPA epoxy resins. The company has no timeline to move away from BPA.

Private label brands

The study also included store brands from popular retailers like Kroger, Meijer, Albertsons (including Randalls and Safeway), Dollar General, Dollar Tree (including Family Dollar), Gordon Food Service, Loblaws, Target, Trader Joe’s, Walmart and Whole Foods. The majority of these cans (62%) tested positive for BPA epoxy.

Some major retailers like Albertson’s/Safeway, Kroger, Wegmans, and Whole Foods have adopted policies to reduce or phase out BPA in their private label canned food; but don’t have a timeline in place. Target and Walmart, two other major retailers, don’t have any policies in place to eliminate BPA.

The report’s good news is that some major private label retailers and national brands have reduced or eliminated their use of BPA in canned food: Amy’s Kitchen, Annie’s Organic, ConAgra, and Eden Foods have fully transitioned away from the use of BPA and are being transparent about what they are using to line their canned foods instead.

HealthyStuff and its partners are calling on all national brands, grocery stores, big-box retailers, and dollar stores to eliminate BPA from food cans.  

Other recommendations:

Food manufacturers: Use safe substitutes to BPA. Label all chemicals used in can liners.

Congress: Adopt comprehensive chemical policies to safely replace other chemicals of concern in products and packaging.

Consumers: Avoid canned food when possible (choose fresh or frozen instead); or only purchase canned food from manufacturers and retailers that fully disclose the identity and safety of their can linings. (At present, none do this.)


Published on March 24, 2016