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

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.

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

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

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!

For more on purging plastics greening your life, subscribe to the Green American.
Our Nov/Dec ”Plastics Challenge” issue is on its way to subscribing members right now.  >>

Categories: Plastic Monday

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  1. Thank you for this post; I had no idea. I have already gone your way on the soup front, but now will have to deal with the tomato issue. Like you I use a lot. Alas, I am not a fan of home canning; however, I may have to do it anyway.

  2. I am with you on the tomatoes as well! That is about the only vegetable I buy in a can. Unfortunately, it is hard for me to grow tomatoes (I live at 9000 feet and our growing season is about 2 months long ..) I am going to try to stock up SOMEHOW this coming summer and can can can!

  3. Ladies, does anyone know of a way to freeze these veggies (tomatoes included) in something besides plastic? and would a ziplock bag contain the BPA? If the bags don’t contain BPA then freezing tomatoes is much easier than canning and will work very well for soups and sauces. if the bags do contain BPA then i’m at a total loss as to how to preserve the tomatoes other than the old-fashioned canning.

    • Great question KC– and thanks for bringing up freezing as an alternative to canning. Both SC Johnson (maker of Ziploc brand bags) and Saran claim that their plastic bags are free of BPA and other potentially toxic plasticizers like adipates (DEHA) or phthalates (DEHP), so freezing tomatoes this way may be a great option for some people (even though it does involve plastic!). I would personally make sure any sauces were cooled off before putting them in the bags. And it may be obvious to most people, but here’s a trick I learned from my mother-in-law: fill the bags, then lay them on their side in the freezer, so you can stack the thin bags on top of one another like little books, it saves a lot of room.

      Also, I often freeze broth and soup in glass jars– it works well, but you need to make sure to use strong jars (like those intended for canning) so they don’t break in the freezer.

  4. Nice article. I’m really trying to reduce our BPA levels as well. Regarding soups. I freeze many of my homemade soups in ice cube trays (the sterilite brand at Target are BPA free.) Then store in Ziplock brand bags (also BPA free as is the Saran Wrap brand of plastic wrap, though they don’t sell that in Tucson, that I can find.) I can just heat up as many cubes of soup as we need. Regarding tomatoes. You can freeze them then use to cook in sauces. Once frozen they peel easily. I bought a bunch this summer when they were on sale super cheap. Then we found out our daughter can’t eat them. We may try her on tomatoes again in January to see if her gut has healed enough to let her eat them. Hope so. I miss tomatoes and my freezer is filled with beautiful tomatoes I can’t use. They are all stored in Ziplock brand bags.

  5. I discovered this LATE this summer and was only able to do a sample batch (two jars full, and one’s already gone boo hoo…), but this recipe for “melted tomatoes” is going to be my go-to way to preserve tomatoes from here on out. Basically, you roast them in an oven until they “melt” and then pack them into jars and cover with oil, and store in the fridge. The jar that I finished lasted well over a month and still tasted super-fresh. Can’t wait to do this with next summer’s bounty.

  6. Here is another delicious recipe for the freezer: run tomatoes, a bit of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and some herbs (basil, oregano for instance) through a food processor. (in a way its ground up tomato salad). If you have space, fill this raw tomato drink into 8 ounce mason jars and freeze. It makes a great energy drink for lunches.

  7. I assume you know that there is BPA in the metal canning lids in your picture. These are the lids that come with the Ball jars and they’re lined with BPA containing plastic. Tattler lids are reusable and don’t have any BPA, though they’re still plastic. Remember that when you can, there is high heat and the insides are pushed against the lid, so there is plenty of BPA access.

    As for freezing in glass canning jars. I do it all the time but have lost a few of the quarts (never a smaller one) because freezing can be rough on glass. So underfill the jars, refridgerate them before freezing, and don’t put lids on until after they’re frozen. Ball sells plastic screw on lids that fit the jars and are great for freezing and other non-canning purposes.

  8. I have been growing and canning my own tomatoes for 42 years. I didn’t think about the canning jar lids, but yes, they are plastic lined. However, I also dry most of my tomatoes and this is my preference for preserving them. There is No BPA involved in this method.

    Can someone tell me if there are BPAs in plastic freezer bags? I imagine there must be??

    • Ziplock brand freezer bags do NOT have BPA or phthalates. Neither does Saran Wrap plastic wrap. Sterilite brand ice cube trays (sold at Target) do not have BPA, phthalates or dioxin. At least this was all true when I researched it a few months ago.

  9. So, I am wondering if anyone knows about BPA in the plastic packaging of foods. I don’t often buy canned food or plastic bottled drinks but I still buy several things that come in plastic. Rice, sugar, pasta, bread, vitamins, etc. If it’s not liquid does that mean BPA won’t contaminate the food?

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  14. I have worked in the chemical industry for 30 years. I have handled 50 lb bags of BPA been covered in dust, breathed fumes and probably ingested a small quantity. I am 65 years old an have no knows side effects. This is not proof that there is no danger, but should temper the hysteria some.

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  29. Any soft/flexible plastic has plasticizers, pretty much by definition, including Ziplock freezer bags. Saran fudges this by stating that “Our Saran and Ziploc products do not contain HARMFUL plasticizers, including those associated with endocrine disruption such as adipates (DEHA) or phthalates (DEHP)” (emphasis mine).
    In other words, they have plasticizers in them–chemically similar to those associated with endocrine disruption–but they simply haven’t done studies to show that they are harmful.

  30. For commercial tomatoes in glass jars, look for:
    Eden Organic’s crushed tomatoes
    Bionaturae’s stained tomatoes or tomato paste

    When freezing in glass:
    use straight sided jars and leave plenty of room at the top for expansion. If the top of the glass tapers, you will likely end up with a broken container. Try staight sided 24 oz jars filled to the 20 oz line.
    If you prefer square, I have been using glasslock containers. They do have plastic tops but they are recycle #5, which is supposed to be among the safest plastics, I believe. And, the food is not touching the top, or I put a sheet of parchment paper on top of the food.

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  32. So this is not at all on this subject but we can not afford to wait any longer. Some you out there might have heard about Keurig with there feeble attempt to placate to the general public by saying they are working on a biodegradable pod by 2020. Well that may be the what they are saying but you and I know its just plain crap! I have other words but we can’t same them here their much to offensive! I won’t bore anyone with long details but we have a solution and need to get the word out, it is a product that yes would go with a Keurig otherwise known as (Killing Machine) and its not even what you think, just get in touch with me at E-mail provided. Oh and you may say why should I care, we have all seen the statistics on the pods being dumped at an alarming rate, well you may not own this machine but many due so lets point these people in another direction, plastic free!

    Sincerely, Jim

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