Your Kitchen Pantry Is Probably Still Full of Toxins

According to a new report, most canned foods on the market contain BPA.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Jun 3, 2015· 3 MIN READ
Steve Holt is a regular contributor to TakePart. He writes about food for Edible Boston, Boston Magazine, The Boston Globe, and other publications.

When Nicole DaSilva went back to work three years ago after being a stay-at-home mom to her two kids, she planned to use the additional income to help feed her family better. Part of her motivation was her son Jason, nine, who had demonstrated a few learning impairments and medical issues that she hoped to address with a healthier diet instead of pills. She began reading up on the preservatives and additives in many of the foods we eat—and even the presence of chemicals like bisphenol A, better known as BPA, used in canned food packaging, which is linked to a host of health concerns. What she learned pushed her toward cooking with more fresh ingredients, and as her cooking changed, her shopping habits shifted.

“I had already made other changes and eliminated BPA products in bottles and the like,” she said. “I do not avoid many aisles in the grocery store, but I walk straight past any canned goods.”

New analysis from the Environmental Working Group, published Wednesday, appears to support DaSilva’s wariness of canned foods. The EWG reports that many food companies have not removed BPA from the epoxy that lines aluminum cans, despite widespread knowledge of its potential health impacts. According to EWG’s analysis of 252 canned food brands, the organization found that 78 brands are still packing their food into cans containing BPA-based epoxy, and just 31 brands are using BPA-free cans for all their products.

(Chart: Courtesy EWG.org)

“The Environmental Working Group has been working with BPA for a number of years and knew that transition is slow in food,” said Renee Sharp, EWG’s research director and coauthor of the analysis. “But I have to say, I was hoping that more progress will have been made. It’s disappointing to see that progress had not come as far as we had hoped.”

So, Why Should You Care? The chemical has been linked with such health problems as altered brain and nervous system development, changes in the reproductive system, and reduced sperm count in men, and its toxicity may be most concentrated in fetuses and small children. When you consider the breadth of non-industry-funded research on bisphenol A, according to Sharp, there is “really no doubt” the chemical is toxic.

Other industries that used to rely on the chemical have changed far more quickly than canned food makers. After a pair of reports published in 2008 raised concern over its negative effects, Walmart and Toys R Us stopped selling baby bottles and sippy cups that contained BPA. Camelback removed BPA from all of its products the same year. Other bottle companies followed suit seemingly overnight, and today plastic bottles containing BPA are difficult to find.

(Chart: Courtesy EWG.org)

Sharp attributes the food industry’s lag on BPA, in part, to the Food and Drug Administration position that the chemical is “safe at the current levels occurring in foods”—a belief she says is based on 20th-century science and puts the FDA squarely in the “dark ages” on this issue.

When it comes to regulation, the states may outpace the federal government. Last month, for example, California’s Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee voted unanimously to add BPA to the state’s Proposition 65 list, which names chemicals associated with reproductive harm to women. The ruling could result in a mandatory label on products containing the chemical announcing their potential effects.

Among the companies that have voluntarily removed BPA from their canned products is California-based Amy’s Kitchen, which in 2010 admitted the transition had been difficult because of a lack of reliable BPA-free epoxy can coatings at the time. By February 2011, however, Amy’s Kitchen was producing cans with a non-BPA lining.

“We work hard to be a leader in our industry and are dedicated to responding to the requests of our consumer,” said John Paneno, director of sourcing for Amy’s Kitchen. “We heard our consumers asking for non-BPA cans, and having reviewed the concerns, we responded by moving to change the lining.”

Related: How to Get BPA out of Your Kitchen

Amy’s Kitchen took the extra step of adding a label stating “Non-BPA Lining” to all its cans, which are tested for the chemical by a third-party auditor. The company is a shining model for change in an area that’s “a little bit of a Wild West,” Sharp said, and in need of consistent regulation and corporate buy-in. She believes Congress should give the FDA “clear authority” to study the chemicals that are in packaging and that more food companies should label their products to help consumers make the best choices.

For her part, DaSilva isn’t likely to lift her family’s ban on the can.

“I’m just a concerned mom that read about the dangers and educated myself to ensure that I could make the most well-informed decisions for my two kids,” she said.