Canned food is good to have around in an emergency, and it tends to be affordable. Unfortunately, cheap convenience may come at a cost. At least three recent sets of tests, by Consumer Reports, by the Environmental Working Group and most recently by the Food and Drug Administration, have found that a chemical leaches from the lining of cans into food.
That chemical is bisphenol-A, or BPA, a synthetic estrogen better known for leaching into foods from plastics. While the the chemical and food industries continue to stand behind the safety of low-dose BPA exposure, many consumer and health advocates are worried enough by independent scientific studies to warn people to avoid exposure whenever possible. The FDA has generally supported the safety of the chemical, though it has published strategies for avoiding exposure, and the National Toxicology Program has raised concerns about its potential effects on reproduction and development.
Chemicals like BPA are known as "endocrine disruptors" because they mimic the body's hormones; because hormones trigger biological responses at minute concentrations, the thinking goes, so might these synthetic cousins. Exposure to BPA has been linked, primarily in lab animal studies, to a range of possible health problems ranging from obesity to infertility.
Another recent study, small but instructive, found that a family reduced its exposure to BPA 60% by swapping fresh foods for canned and packaged foods. (There is at least one BPA-free canned food alternative, from Eden Organic, which costs more but comes without the chemical worry; $25.50 for 12 15-ounce cans of black beans, for instance, at amazon.com.)
Tests showing that BPA leached from plastic baby bottles into formula prompted at least eight states, along with most major retailers and bottle makers, to phase BPA out of plastic baby bottles. Many water bottle makers have followed suit. But BPA remains a component of the lining of canned foods and canned beverages like soda. (It's also been found in residue left on fingers after handling sales receipts and dollar bills.) For those concerned about exposing themselves, or for pregnant women concerned about exposing their developing baby, eating more fresh fruits and vegetables in place of canned foods is one important strategy.
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