Plastic (free) Monday: Getting BPA Out Of My Kitchen

Submitted by aatkins on November 7, 2011

Most of us are all too familiar with the dangers of bisphenol-A (BPA), which has been used commonly as an additive in plastic products. BPA, which is an endocrine disruptor linked to an assortment of frightening health effects, including heart disease, reproductive problems, and cancer, started making headlines a few years ago when study after study indicated that BPA can leach from food packaging (including baby bottles) and that it was found lurking in the bloodstreams of a shocking 93% of the adult population in America.

That last statistic really makes me stop and wring my hands—more than likely, I have some estrogen-mimicking BPA moving through my body right now. But worse, it’s not just in my body, but in the tiny, vulnerable bodies of my two young children.

Like many Green America members, I worked to purge our lives of BPA a few years ago, ditching any water bottle or sippy cup that didn’t bear a “BPAfree label. And avoiding BPA has gotten easier  many large brands have done away with their use of BPA, and 11 states now have laws on the books prohibiting the use of BPA in products designed for children.

But while researching the current state of BPA for the “Plastics Challenge” Green American, I was reminded of one of the other ways BPA is making its way into my kitchen— in canned goods.

The Breast Cancer Fund found BPA in all six samples it tested.

BPA is used in the epoxy liners of most canned goods on store shelves–the liners are made to keep food from spoiling, but the result is that toxic BPA is leaching into our food. Studies by the Environmental Working Group found potentially dangerous amounts of BPA in several canned foods and infant formula; and a recent study by the Breast Cancer Fund tested six canned food products marketed toward children, and found BPA in all of them.

And if these studies are frightening enough, another study was released after our latest Green American went to press, forging a connection between exposure to BPA in utero and later behavioral problems in girls.

And as the Breast Cancer Fund points out, one serving of these foods won’t damage a child’s body  but we have to think about the sum total of BPA exposure through the various foods, drinks, and products we and our children eat and use every day.

I’m proud to say that we already eat very few commercially canned foods in our house — we subscribe to a local CSA and eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies. But there are still a few staples that I rely on from a can — soup and tomatoes.

I love soup. Maybe it’s my midwestern genes, but for me soup is the best comfort food –and nothing satisfies me like a warm bowl of noodle soup. Even as I strive to make fresh meals, I almost always have a few stand by cans of soup around. But now that I’m more aware of the presence of BPA in canned soup (not to mention that the two Campbell’s chicken soups tested by The Breast Cancer Fund showed the highest levels of BPA in their study), I’m saying goodbye to my canned soup habit.

Instead, I’m embracing my crockpot to make my own fresh soups each week — I throw in some of our fresh seasonal veggies and let it cook all day, then tuck it in the fridge so I can get my fix throughout the week. And I’ve made an important discovery — my kids LOVE fresh soup, and will gobble up any vegetable if it comes in a bowl of broth. So we’re all getting more fresh veggies, not to mention that we’re avoiding the high sodium of most canned soups and, of course, the BPA in the can linings.

Canned tomatoes are a bit harder. I rely on canned tomatoes to add bulk to soups and throw together pasta sauce in an instant. But the high acidity of tomatoes means that even Eden Foods, which uses vegetable-based linings in its canned beans, uses BPA in cans of tomatoes (though, according to Eden Foods, BPA is in the “non-detectable range” in these products). And though Muir Glen has promised to use BPA-free cans for tomatoes, the company has declined to disclose what is in the new linings– and my research has taught me that just because a label says “BPA-free” doesn’t mean it’s free of potentially dangerous endocrine disruptors.

Home canning can help you use local tomatoes throughout the year

So we’ve stopped buying canned tomatoes, and are learning to live without them in most cases. I stocked up on pasta sauce in glass jars when it was on sale, and am urging my local food co-op put pressure on their suppliers to offer safe, BPA-free products. And when we’re back in tomato season I plan to stock up on seconds at the farmer’s market (the “seconds” are the tomatoes with spots or bruises that sell for a lower price) and have a great canning party, so that next winter we’ll have our own supply of organic, local tomatoes all season long (if you’re new to canning, check out our article: Think Globally, Can Locally).

What about you, readers? Do you have any canned foods you struggle to live without? How are you cleansing your life of BPA?

Some additional thoughts on November 12…

Thanks to all the great readers who commented about alternatives to canned tomatoes! Commenter Cyndi pointed out, quite rightly, that canning lids (like the ones used on the jars pictured above) are lined with BPA. There are reusable canning lids made by TATTLER that, though still made of plastic, are BPA-free.

I was shopping yesterday at my local food co-op, and guess what I saw? Eden Organic crushed tomatoes in glass jars! According to Eden, they developed this product as an alternative to tomatoes packaged in BPA-lined cans. And though there is BPA lining in the can lids, the company explains that it is separated from touching any food by another a second protective sealant. I picked up a couple jars and I’m about to start a batch of chard enchiladas!

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