Getting Toxic Chemicals Out of Your Life: Canned Food

Today I was cleaning out my pantry, a job that I usually dread but became the impetus for this blog article.  I started wondering about packaging, specifically how my canned food is packaged.  I am familiar with the problem of Bisphenol A (BPA) in canned food and try to buy BPA-free cans but I also realized that we really do not have that many cans in the pantry.  When I was a kid and in college I lived off of canned food, it was just too easy to heat up vegetables, soup, or ravioli out of the can.  I was also guilty of loving canned fruit.  Fortunately, my eating habits have changed and we try to purchase fresh or frozen food and avoid eating vegetables out of the can. 

So why avoid canned food?  Cans with BPA linings are a common source of exposure to BPA. Scientists from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration who studied BPA exposure in 2011 stated that BPA “migrates into can contents during processing and storage.”  BPA was first synthesized by chemists in the 1890s and in the 1930s chemists identified it as an artificial estrogen, a chemical that can affect the body like the natural human hormone--an Endocrine Disrupting Chemical (EDC).  EDCs alter the body’s natural hormones by mimicking thyroid and sex hormones and have been associated with a wide variety of health problems, including altered brain and nervous system development and changes in the reproductive system. Pregnant women and the developing fetus, children and teens may be most at risk from exposures to BPA from canned foods. In California, state scientists in 2015 unanimously agreed that BPA should be added to the state’s list of chemicals known to cause birth defects.

There are many grocery stores and food brands that use BPA-free cans.  Simply changing the way you grocery shop can drastically decrease the amount of BPA you and your family consume.  Also consider purchasing fresh or frozen products in lieu of canned. 

In 2015 the Environmental Working Group published a comprehensive paper on food brands that do and do not use BPA-free cans.  In 2017 Safer Chemicals came out with a report looking at major grocery store chains and if their products are using BPA-free cans.  All of this may seem a bit overwhelming, after all we are just talking about cans but remember that your food may sit in those cans for weeks, months, or years (yes I found a very old can of Progressive soup in my pantry) so please take a look at these resources and follow some of the below tips to decrease you and your family’s exposure to toxic chemicals.

--Shop at stores whose food brands mostly use BPA-free cans:

• Aldi Nord’s Trader Joe’s brand packs all of its tomatoes, chicken and beef, most of its fruit, vegetables and beans and some of its soups and seafood in BPA-free cans. Trader Joe’s website  (as of May 2017) clearly distinguishes which of its products are packaged in BPA-free linings and which have not yet transitioned.

• Whole Foods Market uses BPA-free cans for all of its 365 Everyday Value canned tomatoes, fish, coconut milk and pumpkin, as well as all 365 Organic Everyday Value canned vegetables.

• Wegmans brand, from Wegmans Food Markets, Inc., canned products including tomatoes, most vegetables and fruits, and most pet foods, are packed in cans with liners made without added BPA.

--Buy brands that use BPA-free cans (see below list from EWG’s report)

--Substitute fresh, frozen, or dried food for canned.

--For those who cannot avoid BPA epoxy can linings, rinsing canned beans, fruit, and vegetables in water may help lower the level of BPA in the food.

--Never heat food in the can.