Sunday, May 1, 2011

BPA in Food Containers: Are Plastic Bottles and Food Cans Safe?

Recent scary reports of the harmful chemical BPA (bisophenol-a) leaching from plastic bottles into my food concern me. I refill plastic water bottles, many of them over 5 years old. I routinely pour boiling water in my Rubbermaid® bottle to make tea.  I use refillable plastic coffee mugs.  Are these habits risky?
BPA, an estrogen-like chemical, is found in hard, clear plastic bottles, dental sealants and in canned goods linings.   Canned beverages contain less of the chemical than canned foods like soup, pasta, fruits and vegetables, which are often processed at high temperatures. Virtually every canned product, even those labeled organic, has liners with BPA.
BPA has been shown to have risks to human development, raising concerns for early puberty, prostate effects, breast cancer, and behavioral impacts from early-life exposures. Pregnant women, infants and young children are most vulnerable to the harmful effects of BPA. More recent studies have shown a possible link to other adult diseases.
BPA in Plastic Bottles
Only a certain type of reusable plastic bottle is of concern, mainly products with a recycle code of 7 that are clear and hard.  You may be able to look up any products you use on the internet to see if they have  BPA. Rubbermaid® has a wonderful page that shows pictures of all their products and tells you which contain BPA.  Rubbermaid® discontinued the use of BPA, but older products on your shelf may have some.
Of more concern is BPA use in baby bottles and canned infant formula. Studies have shown that BPA release increases dramatically when heating plastics with BPA1. Some manufacturers of baby products have removed BPA from their containers. Walmart and some other retailers are eliminating products with BPA. Look at the label or visit the manufacturer’s website for details on BPA usage in packaging.
BPA in Other Food Products
But what about BPA use in other products?  I haven’t found a lot of research on BPA in can linings. In December 2008, Consumer’s Reports tested canned foods2.  They found the highest concentrations of BPA (about 80 times higher than their expert’s recommended daily limit),  in canned green beans and canned soups.  They noted there could be variability among products.  Canned juice had low levels of BPA, but Consumer’s Reports reminded readers that children may consume several cans a day. It should be noted that some manufacturers are taking BPA out of their canned goods liners.  Check the can label or the manufacturer’s website.
I found that refilling my water bottles is safe. They don’t contain BPA. I may reconsider making tea in a plastic container. Even though it doesn’t have BPA,  I wonder what other harmful chemicals might be leaching out of the plastic because of the boiling water.  If you find some of the containers you use for food storage have BPA, you might choose to discard them.  Both ConsumerReports and The National Institute of Health Sciences – National Institutes of Health showed some concern over canned products and recommend reduced usage if you are concerned. Many sources also recommend not using plastic in the microwave.
  1. Plastic Bottles Release Potentially Harmful Chemicals (Bisphenol A) After Contact With Hot Liquids, ScienceDaily (Feb. 4, 2008), A University of Cincinnati study discovered the amount of BPA that leaches from products increases from 15-55% when boiling water is put into the container. 
  2. Concern over canned foods, lab tests, ConsumerReports, December 2009, pp 54-55.
  3. Timeline: BPA from Invention to Phase-Out, Environmental Working Group (EWG), Jane Houlihan, Sonya Lunder, Anila Jacob. April 2008, Updated March 2011   A Very detailed listing of activities by agencies in BPA research, laws, etc.
  4. Since You Asked  - Bisphenol A (BPA ),  National Institute of Health Sciences – National Institutes of Health.
  5. FAQs: The Safety of Plastic Beverage Bottles, Plastics Info, sponsored by the American Chemistry Council.
  6. Are toxic plastics lurking in your kitchen?, New York Times - Health, Tara Parker-Pope, April 22, 2008.


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