Study Confirms: Grocery Stores Are Still a BPA Minefield

A searchable database from the Environmental Working Group will help consumers who don’t want to be exposed to the chemical.
(Photo: Jon Riley/Getty Images)
Jun 19, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

Despite many major food manufacturers and retailers announcing in recent years that they would move away from using bisphenol A in packaging materials, BPA remains present in the lining of many canned goods. Recent testing by an advocacy group found BPA in 70 percent of nearly 200 samples—including products from companies such as Campbell’s and Kroger’s, which have pledged to phase out BPA.

The chemical, which is used in many plastics and resins, is considered an endocrine disruptor and has been linked to developmental problems in fetuses, infants, and children. According to the Food and Drug Administration, BPA is safe at the levels people are exposed to via canned foods. Still, many consumers would rather not risk it—and the Environmental Working Group has a new tool to help those shoppers avoid some 16,000 products that may have BPA in their packaging.

“It’s in beer, it’s in coffee, it’s in tea, it’s in energy drinks, it’s in beer cans, it’s in aerosol cans for whipped’s everywhere,” Samara Geller, a database and research analyst with EWG, said of BPA.

The information included in the database comes from a reliable place: the food companies. Last year, after California added bisphenol A to its list of hormone disruptors, the state’s Proposition 65 required manufacturers to list products that contain BPA and to issue a warning to be posted in stores. (It’s by the cash register, and it doesn’t include product names.) The Grocery Manufacturers Association, an industry trade group, created a website to list all the BPA info for products made by its members, but EWG said in a press release that it is “a chaotic jumble—incomplete, inconsistent, poorly organized, and not searchable,” and that little effort was made to promote it. With the new EWG database based on the same information, the nonprofit is hoping to improve on both of those problems.

“Our new database shines a light on just how pervasive BPA is in our food system and will help Americans navigate the supermarket armed with more information,” EWG president Ken Cook said in a statement.

Unlike the GMA website, the new database is searchable, but that doesn’t always make it consumer-friendly. If you search for Trader Joe’s products, for example, you can see that the grocery store’s sliced black ripe olives and mild chunky salsa have BPA in the packaging—which, fine, OK, is easy enough to remember at the store. But what about Trader Joe’s 000000514033 Tjoes Sld Lt Yf Olvol P&L or Trader Joe’s 000000992848 Tjoes Sld Wh Wtr No Slt? EWG says, by way of explanation, “the product names in the industry database are often an incomprehensible jumble of abbreviated words.” The numbers listed are UPC codes, however, which can be compared against product labels.

“Our main goal was to get this out to as many people as possible as quickly as possible,” Geller said when asked about the more confusing listings. She added that “the UPC code is really your best defense to finding out what they’re talking about,” as product names change.

But if reading UPCs in the grocery aisles feels like a bridge too far, Geller has some succinct advice. “Consumers should try to avoid most canned food if possible,” she said, and should look for those products that are labeled BPA-free.