by Kate Hehyoe
Recently, BPA’s been making headlines, but often with incomplete information. BPA, or bisphenol A, is a widely used chemical that can leach from packaging into foods and liquids.
As canned and frozen packaged foods go, BPA presents a real dilemma. It’s so ubiquitous, it’s even in soda cans. From Con-Agra to Carnation, Annie’s Naturals to Whole Foods, and conventional to organic, we’ve been eating products with BPA-packaging for more than fifty years.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest stops short of putting all BPA-lined containers (including cans) on the do-not-use list. But it does note that pregnant women, fetuses, infants and children are more at risk than the general population because BPA mimics estrogen, a hormone that affects brain development.
In early 2008, the Food and Drug Administration concluded that BPA-packaged products “are safe and that exposure levels to BPA from food contact materials, including for infants and children, are below those that may cause health effects…At this time, FDA is not recommending that anyone discontinue using products that contain BPA while we continue our risk assessment process. However, concerned consumers should know that several alternatives to polycarbonate baby bottles exist, including glass baby bottles.”
But in September 2008, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and released before federal hearings linked exposure to bisphenol A with cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and liver-enzyme abnormalities in adults.
Other studies suggest that as BPA leaches into ground water, it may harm fish and plants over time. (BPA does have a short half-life, chemically speaking, but it’s everywhere; as a polycarbonate component, it’s found in everything from CDs to medical equipment to fire retardant.)
The food safety issues are really just opening up. Things you should know about BPA include:
- If you see #7 in the recycling symbol on a plastic bottle or frozen food container, it may contain BPA. But #7 is a catch-all category, so it also includes both BPA and non-BPA containers.
- PVC containers marked as #3 can contain BPA in their plasticizers, but not all do.
- Any container of hard, clear plastic is likely to contain BPA, unless otherwise noted.
- BPA leaches out 55 times faster when exposed to hot liquids.
The good news is that non-BPA alternatives do exist. They’re either not widespread or not promoted as BPA-free. For instance:
- Eden-brand uses non-BPA cans for their beans (but not for their tomatoes).
- Aseptic containers (as with tomatoes) and pouched packages (as with tuna) are non-BPA alternatives to cans.
- For non-BPA plastic soda and water bottles, look for recycling symbols with 1 (PETE).
- Stainless steel and glass make good alternatives to hard plastic, polycarbonate bottles.
With increased consumer demand, more manufacturers will get the BPA out. You’ll probably never see labels stating the package contains BPA, but the brands that voluntarily go BPA-free will be smart to let us know.
This article is excerpted in part from Kate Heyhoe’s book (Da Capo Press, April 2009):
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