Testing for BPA: Concern over canned foods

Consumer Reports News: November 02, 2009 06:08 PM

Consumer Reports recently tested a variety of canned foods to determine whether they contain Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used in the epoxy resin linings of most food and beverage cans. We found that even samples of canned food we tested from manufacturers who aim to reduce consumers’ BPA exposure by using non-epoxy based can linings had measurable amounts of the chemical.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration currently is reassessing what it considers a safe level of exposure to BPA, which some studies show is linked with increased risks of certain cancers, diabetes, reproductive abnormalities, and heart disease. Federal guidelines currently put the daily upper limit of exposure at 50 micrograms of BPA per kilogram of body weight. But that level is based on experiments done in the 1980s rather than hundreds of more recent animal and laboratory studies indicating that serious health risks could result from much lower doses of BPA.

Mounting scientific evidence of the chemical’s health risks prompted Eden Foods President and Chairman Michael Potter more than a decade ago to search for BPA-free cans for the canned foods produced by his Ann Arbor, Mich.-based natural foods company. In an interview with Consumer Reports, he explained that he eventually negotiated a deal with Ball Corp.—famous for its glass jars—to manufacture BPA-free cans starting in 1999 for Eden’s bean products, including chili. The inner coating of those cans is an oleo-based material originally known as “corn enamel,” which was commonly used in food can linings prior to the 1960s. That’s when epoxy resins took over the market because they helped extend shelf life without affecting flavor, according to Scott McCarty, spokesman for Ball Corp.

Potter says that finding a supplier of cans that weren’t lined with BPA-containing epoxy resin was a difficult and frustrating process. “I made hundreds of calls to can manufacturers trying to find out what was in their can linings and I always ended up talking to an attorney in the Beltway who informed me to my amazement that it was a trade secret and I had no right to know,” says Potter.

The Ball Corp. eventually agreed to produce custom runs of cans with oleo-based C-enamel linings for Eden. It’s also doing research to develop BPA-free can coatings that could work for more acidic foods such as fruit, which Eden now markets in glass containers. “It’s costing me 14 percent more for these BPA-free cans, but I said I have to do this because not only do I eat canned foods, but so do my kids and grandkids,” Potter says.

Even so, the samples of Eden Baked Beans in our tests were found to contain an average of one part per billion of BPA. That’s far below many other food products we tested, which ranged up to a high of 191 ppb for a single sample. The fact that the Eden Baked Beans we tested still had any measurable amounts of BPA—even though our tests confirmed the cans did not have epoxy-based linings—suggests that food can have multiple sources of exposure.

BPA is now one of the highest-volume chemicals in the world, with more than 100 tons released into the atmosphere per year. Various studies have found BPA in dust and water samples from around the world. This unavoidable environmental exposure makes it all the more important to eliminate the use of BPA in can linings and all materials that come in contact with food. Consumers Union is calling upon manufacturers and government regulators to do just that.

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