BPA free safety claims not yet a sure bet

Posted by
July 18, 2013

Thanks to all the concern and negative publicity about BPA over the past few years, the vast majority of plastic water bottles, baby bottles and plastic food containers are now bearing the “BPA-free” label. But does that make them any safer than the old plastic water bottle in your cupboard?

BPA, short for bisphenol A, is a hormone-disrupting, reproductive and developmental toxin that has also permeated the environment so much so that a government study found detectible levels of it in 93 percent of several thousand people tested over the age of six. BPA can cause adverse effects at very low levels, and is a particular concern for infants and children.

While most manufacturers of plastic food and drink containers no longer use BPA,  researchers who conducted a 2011 study claim that the replacement chemicals also have estrogenic activity, making them “a potential health problem” as well.

And in an strange twist, the maker of one of those replacement resins, called Tritan, that is advertised as “safe” and used in over 600 products most likely labeled “BPA-free,” is suing two Texas-based companies involved in that study.

In a trial set to start this week, Eastman Chemical claims that companies PlastiPure and CertiChem made “false” and “misleading” statements about Tritan.

The defendant companies say that Tritan-made products can leach “chemicals having significant estrogenic activity after common-use stresses” and calls the case a “David & Goliath match up” that is an attempt to “shut down independent testing…”

The study Eastman is focusing on, published in a 2011 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, is by no means the first time the safety of these BPA-free plastics has been questioned.

Author and alternative medicine expert Dr. Joseph Mercola has been sounding the alarm about so-called “safe” plastics for several years, advising people to limit drinking and eating from all plastics and to never, ever microwave foods in plastic containers.

What about canned food?

While BPA is said to be found “everywhere” in the environment, including in every water source that has ever been tested, the Environmental Protection Agency states that human exposure is “primarily through food packaging manufactured using BPA.” (Another route of exposure to the chemical is through thermal printed paper, such as store receipts possibly through dermal exposure or by hand to mouth contact).

Cans (and lids) need some type of coating to prevent corrosion and bacterial contamination of the food, and coming up with BPA alternatives (especially for acidic foods such as tomatoes) is apparently not all that easy, or more likely, cost effective.  One company, however, Muir Glenn, says it has managed to remove the BPA from all of its tomato product cans since 2011.

Knowing for sure if there is BPA in a food can is a tough question that many food manufacturers can’t even seem to get a handle on. But what we can tell you is that one of the ways to be sure you are not buying food in containers in which BPA was used in the manufacturing process is to ditch the can – and the plastic (including at-home food storage containers) and go with good old fashioned glass or stainless steel. There is, however, one caveat: that lid linings used on glass containers may be coated with BPA.

So while it’s impossible to eliminate all exposure to this toxic chemical, carefully selecting packaged food products, or eliminating cans and plastic containers altogether, is one way to start reducing it. Here are four companies that have eliminated BPA fully or partially from their product containers:

  • Muir Glen

This General Mills-owned organic food company, which makes a wide variety of tomato products that include pasta sauces, soups, salsa and ketchup, says that since 2011 it has not used BPA in its food packaging.

  • Eden Foods

The oldest independent organic food company in the U.S., Eden is apparently the pioneer in eliminating BPA from most of its cans, with its beans being packaged in BPA-free containers since 1999. (But apparently even Eden couldn’t totally solve the problem, and says on its web site that years of searching for a BPA alternative for its high acid products, like tomatoes, was unsuccessful. Because of that the company now packages a portion of its tomato products in glass jars, but even that isn’t 100 percent. Saying “there is no such thing as the perfect food package,” Eden states that the first coating inside the twist cap does have BPA in it, but contains a “second protective sealant over the metal that does not contain any…” and that “isolates” the BPA coating from coming into contact with the food.

  • Wild Planet

A privately owned, California-based company that specializes in sustainably caught wild seafood, Wild Planet produces a variety of products, including, pole-caught tuna, wild salmon, sardines, crab and shrimp, packaging its tuna and shrimp in BPA-free cans.

  • Amy’s Kitchen

A privately-owned organic food company with a wide variety of canned and frozen dishes, Amy’s Kitchen says that it has transitioned “to cans using no BPA in the formulation of its liner.”

With the U.S. Food and Drug Administration just last Thursday announcing that it will no longer allow the chemical to be used in packaging for infant formula (the agency banned it in baby bottles and cups last year), it appears that BPA use in the food industry may be finally if ever so slowly losing its grip.

But whether its chemical kin are any better remains to be seen.