Food Makers Battle to Avoid BPA Containers

By Sylvia Booth Hubbard -

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 8:06 AM

The chemical bisphenol A is implicated in a long list of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, and it is found in the lining of almost every metal food and drink can on supermarket shelves. And unfortunately, it probably isn't going to go away anytime soon.

Bisphenol A (BPA), which is a synthetic form of estrogen, is not inert. It leaches into liquids such as sodas, baby formulas, and soups.

Consumer Reports tested 19 canned foods and found almost all of them contained BPA, and government reports estimate that the chemical is in the urine of 90 percent of Americans.

Several studies during the past decade have hinted that levels of BPA lower than those declared safe by the Environmental Protection Agency are responsible for numerous health problems.

Some municipalities have responded by banning baby bottles that contain BPA, and Congress is considering banning it from baby bottles, food can liners, reusable food containers, infant formula liners, and sports water bottles.

BPA is still found in many items made from plastic, including water bottles, but many manufacturers have substituted BPA-free polypropylene in their products. Unfortunately, manufacturers of canned foods don't have a simple replacement.

In light of public pressure and impending legislation, some food manufacturers have been trying to switch to BPA-free cans, but are finding the goal to be expensive and elusive. "We don't have a safe, effective alternative, and that's an unhappy place to be," an anonymous source within the food industry told The Washington Post.

Adding to the problem is the fact that manufacturers aren't required to disclose if their products contain BPA, and many refuse. Even the FDA doesn't know which companies are using the chemical.

"Trying to determine what was in the can linings that I was purchasing to put food in was a daunting task," Michael Potter, chief executive of Eden Foods, which makes organic canned products, told The Washington Post. "Inevitably, you end up speaking to a large law firm inside the Beltway that says you don't have the right to know."

Bisphenol A is in thousands of products other than food in places most people would never expect. For instance, it can be found in the thermal paper used for credit card and ATM receipts, dental sealants, and compact discs.

So, what can a consumer do to reduce exposure to BPA? Use these tips:

Choose powdered baby formula over liquid, advises the Environmental Working Group. If you do choose liquid formulas, buy those packaged in glass bottles.

Rinse canned vegetables and fruits. Better still, use fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables.

Buy as many canned food items as possible especially tomato-based pasta sauces packaged in glass.

Avoid heating plastics.

Buy baby bottles and sippy cups marked BPA-free.

Use glass, stainless steel containers, or porcelain containers, especially for heating, advises

Don't buy plastic containers that have the recycling numbers 3 or 7 on the bottom. They contain BPA.

Throw away old, scratched, and cracked plastic bottles and containers. Old plastic leaches more BPA.