Jane Says: Get BPA Out of Your Kitchen

Our advice columnist tells you how to cut out BPA—from the supermarket to the plate.

vegetables in canning jars on kitchen counter with cutting board
The secret to eliminating BPA from your kitchen? Ditch the plastic. (Photo: Jeffrey Coolidge/Getty Images)
Jane Lear is a regular contributor to TakePart. She was on staff at 'Gourmet' for almost 20 years.

“I'd love to see a very comprehensive online article on how to go BPA free in the kitchen. If you google it, you get bits and pieces." -- TakePart reader Jesse Abbot

Faced with conflicting and inconclusive studies, the FDA announced on March 30 that it will continue to allow the endocrine-disrupting chemical bisphenol A (BPA) used in the manufacture of plastics that include food and beverage containers. But is BPA any worse than the 80,000-plus other chemicals registered for use in the U.S. marketplace?

To help put things in perspective, settle down with Jerome Groopman’s “The Plastic Panic,” published in The New Yorker a year ago. Meanwhile, know that BPA is virtually unavoidable—it’s used in thousands of consumer products, from eyeglass lenses to recycled paper. But a good place to start minimizing your risk is in the kitchen. Now, the only way to make your kitchen completely BPA free is to dispose of all the plastic, including containers for cleaning products and most kitchen appliances. But let’s not go there. Instead, let’s concentrate on food and how it’s prepared and consumed.

The supermarket: The last thing I want to do is discourage people from eating fruits and vegetables, but as you know, most canned goods contain BPA in their thin plastic liners. Those liners help protect the contents from the bacterial contamination that can result in botulism—food poisoning of the deadliest sort. But their BPA also leaches into the food, especially when it is acidic, like tomatoes or soda. Food manufacturers and the canning industry are bowing to public pressure and researching alternatives, but try to buy fresh food or that which is packaged in glass or aseptic containers. If you are like me and still like having a few cans of beans and tuna (hmmm, BPA or mercury? tough call) in the pantry for emergency meals, Treehugger has published a handy guide to BPA-free canned goods; it includes Eden Organic and Trader Joe’s.

Home canning: You may well decide to dispense with commercially packaged food altogether and process your own. A Ball home canning starter kit will run you just over ten bucks; for you in-for-a-penny folks, check out Ball’s waterbath canner (about $55). Regular reusable canning lids contain BPA (nothing is ever simple), but don’t despair: BPA-free lids are available online.

What to drink: If you have a pitcher-based water-filtering system, touch base with the manufacturer to see if the pitcher is BPA-free. As far as soda is concerned, check out Sodastream. Me personally? Just doing all this research makes me want to reach for the bourbon. Which comes in a glass bottle.

Food storage: I know it’s tempting to hang on to those plastic containers that Chinese takeout comes in—it goes against the grain to discard something that’s reusable, doesn’t it? But these days, I pitch them out and stick to glass for food storage. Two tried-and-true options are Pyrex and Anchor Hocking, both with BPA-free plastic lids; you can find them at many supermarkets as well as online. And Healthy Kitchenware stocks the sort of handsome ribbed glass containers with glass lids that your grandmother has; keep an eye out for this style at tag sales or vintage online sources as well. If you are loyal to Rubbermaid, the company’s website tells you which of their products are BPA free. As far as resealable bags and plastic wrap go, BPA-free options include Saran Wrap and Ziploc bags.

Cutting boards: BPA isn’t the only reason you should ditch your plastic cutting boards for ones made from wood or bamboo. The widely held opinion that plastic is the best choice from a food-safety point is not necessarily true, as evidenced by research from the Food Safety Laboratory at UC Davis. And although I prefer glass containers for storing food, a glass cutting board will dull your knife very quickly. It’s noisy, too—which is one of my chief complaints about the ecological cutting boards made from layers of paper soaked in a food-safe resin.

Mealtime: Avoid using plastic to heat food up in the microwave; it may cause the BPA to break down and leach out more. And ditch plastic glasses, cups, baby bottles, dishes, and flatware unless they’re BPA free. One caveat here: There is no guarantee that “BPA-free” plastic alternatives are any safer. BPA, after all, may be the evil chemical du jour, but there are potentially toxic chemicals found in other plastics as well. The bottom line? Use real stuff, i.e., glass, porcelain or stoneware, stainless steel, and cloth napkins—BPA is also found in paper napkins and paper towels.

On the go: Klean Kanteen stainless-steel water bottles come in a wide array of colors and sizes, including sippy cups and a pint cup for a kegger (whoo hoo!) or backyard barbecue. My favorite lunchboxes and jars come from Zojirushi. There are a number of BPA-free plastic alternatives in both categories as well.

Cleanup: If you are gradually phasing out plastic containers, at least avoid putting them in the dishwasher or using harsh detergents or abrasive scrubbies. Hand wash them instead with a mild detergent.

Are you worried about BPA in your food supply?

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