Losing My Beans Over BPA

As you likely know by now, last week, the Food and Drug Administration completely dropped the ball on getting a dangerous chemical, Bisphenol-A, out of our food supply. Instead, the agency announced they will keep studying the issue while the chemical companies continue their little experiment on the general public.

How dangerous is BPA? Check out this truly interesting interview with a leading scientist who sounded the alarm on the chemical, Frederick vom Saal, in a Yale University environmental journal, in which he talks about how the chemical companies were so alarmed by his findings that BPA acts like a hormone in the body, even at low doses, that they tried to bribe him not to publish his findings:

Then Dow Chemical sent somebody down and said, “Can we arrive at a mutually beneficial outcome, where you don’t publish this paper?” — which had already been accepted. I got a call a few weeks later, from somebody who said, “I’m aware that the chemical manufacturers are gearing up for a multi-million-dollar campaign about how great BPA is for babies,” borrowing a page out of Dutch Boy Paints, where, knowing lead kills babies, they targeted it as making your baby happy.

This was in 1996. That is, Dow Chemical was nervous that the government might actually respond to these frightening scientific findings, um, 16 years ago. Did they overestimate the integrity of the government, or underestimate their own ability to obfuscate the issue, or both, I wonder.

It’s too bad all for us that they were wrong to worry in the first place. I first read about BPA in can linings when I was pregnant, just in time for a canned food drive by a local charity, so out they went. Since then, I’ve been mainly using dried beans, and storing them in this:

So imagine my dismay when, just this week, I checked the bottom of the container and found a small 7 inside a triangle, meaning that the container could be polycarbonate plastic, a BPA-containing form of plastic.

Humming Alanis Morrisette to myself, I wrote to Oxo, the maker of the container, to ask whether the plastic bin for my red beans was, in fact, a storage problem. The answer was no:

Name: Laura MacCleery
Product Name: Oxo food storage container

Message: I have used medium sized oxo storage containers for years, and just noticed they are marked with a 7 on the bottom. Is this plastic polycarbonate? Does it have BPA or other endocrine disrupting chemicals in it? Thanks so much, Laura

From: OXO Info
Subject: RE: Question about a Product
To: “Laura MacCleery”
Date: Wednesday, April 4, 2012, 10:28 AM

Dear Laura,

Thank you for contacting the OXO Consumer Care Center. Please be assured that our consumers’ safety is a top priority during the development of our products.  There have been many recent reports in the news/media regarding the safety of certain food storage containers.  These reports are originating out of concerns about the safety of the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) which is used in Polycarbonate (PC), one of the many types of plastics included under the recycling symbol #7.

This symbol is used to classify all plastic types that do not fall under categories 1-6 for recycling purposes, and although some plastics in category 7 do contain BPA, many others do not.  OXO’s POP Containers fall under recycling symbol 7 because they are made of SAN (Styrene-Acrylonitrile); however, SAN is not made with BPA, so OXO’s POP Containers are BPA-Free.  Please do not hesitate contacting us if we may be of any further assistance.

We are always happy to assist you.  Thank you for being a valued consumer!

 Thank you,

Brooke

OXO Consumer Care Center

www.oxo.comwww.facebook.com/oxowww.twitter.com/oxo

 ###

Ok, so far, so good, though I keep in mind that even BPA-free plastics have been tested as having BPA in them, so I’ll switch to glass when I see something serviceable.

Update: Having researched the considerable health risks of styrene a little more, I’ve tossed these and am going with glass for all food containers. Here’s a Greenpeace Webguide on plastics:

Acrylonitrile is highly toxic and readily absorbed by humans by inhalation and directly through the skin. Both the liquid and its vapor are highly toxic. Acrylonitrile is classified as a probable human carcinogen as are styrene and butadiene.

And while I was on a BPA-sleuthing tour of duty, I couldn’t stop myself from taking the next step and looking closely at the brand of canned goods we do use, Eden brand, which is labeled as BPA-free. The results were, mostly, reassuring:

Dear Eden,

Thank you very much for making cans without BPA in the linings. Please also let me know whether the lining that you do use, as described on your Web site, contains any estrogenic or endocrine disrupting chemicals or natural substances.

Thanks,
Laura

From: Sandy Baker
Sent: Friday, April 06, 2012 9:43 AM
To: Laura MacCleery
Subject: Re: Cans and endocrine disruptors

Dear Laura,

Thank you for contacting Eden Foods and your interest in Eden products.

Eden Organic Beans are packed in tin covered steel cans coated with a baked on oleoresinous (a natural mixture of an oil and a resin extracted from various plants, such as pine or balsam fir) c-enamel lining that does not contain bisphenol-A. These cans cost 14% more than the industry standard cans, which do contain bisphenol-A.

Eden Organic Tomatoes are packed in tin covered steel cans coated with a baked on r-enamel lining. Due to the acidity of tomatoes, the lining is epoxy based and may contain a minute amount of bisphenol-A, it is however in the ‘non detectable’ range according to independent laboratory Extraction Tests. These tests were based on a detection level at 5 ppb (parts per billion).

If you should have any further questions, please let us know.

Sincerely,

Sales Associate

Eden Foods, Inc.

###

Interestingly, although Eden clearly cares about doing things right in some ways, that little detail about the trace use in the tomato cans is not on their main Web site page about BPA, and it should be.

And the math is stunning to me. Even if the price of the cans is 20 cents out of the $3.00 or so I pay for Eden beans (which is likely a high estimate), then the cost of BPA-lined cans would be 14 percent less than that, or 17.2 cents, making the price difference between BPA cans and non-BPA cans around 3 cents per can. I can see why the industry cares about that price difference, but from a family budget perspective, it’s utterly negligible. This is what all the fuss is about?

For tomatoes, we already use Tetra-paks or jarred sauces (and sometimes, when I’m feeling really uptight about how much Maya eats tomato sauce, I even put a circle of wax paper under the jar lid to keep it from contacting the food, which works pretty well in terms of sticking to the lid. I have no data on how well, as a barrier, it performs.).

[Update: Tetra paks are lined with plastic, and most tomato sauces have either vinyl or BPA under the lid, as I explain in this later post: Seeing Red: My Fruitless Search for a Chemical-Free Jar of Tomato Sauce. One exception to this is Jovial Foods, whose jars have no BPA, as I confirmed with the company, and only a small amount of vinyl.]

But we still haven’t found BPA-free options for coconut milk. Any ideas?

Have you discovered BPA lurking in some hidden corner of your home? Do tell.

12 thoughts on “Losing My Beans Over BPA

  1. Wow, I am so glad to have found your blog. This issue has been weighing on my mind, too, as we eat a lot of dishes with beans and tomatoes. My cupboard is full of beans in bags… gotta get a pressure cooker, because I’m just not on top of things enough to do the soaking and cooking ahead of time on a consistent basis. (Luckily, lentils cook quickly!) I’ve also switched to jarred tomato sauce and have been buying more salsa to add a tomatoey kick to things. My hubby just bought “back-up” canned tomatoes and beans from Costco, though, which illustrates how well it’s been going. I’d like to see more food sold in glass jars.

    • A pressure cooker, which we use constantly, is a huge time-saver! If you use a pressure cooker, you really don’t even need to dice tomatoes. Chunks are fine, because they will fall apart in the steam.

  2. Native Forest coconut milk is in BPA-free cans. I really appreciate seeing your correspondence with Eden because honestly, I just assumed that thir cans had some different horrible kind of plastic instead. What do you know about the new BPA-free Muir Glen cans? I also buy my tomatoes in tetra packs but then can’t get them organic, do you? I agree that it’s insane to have to think like this about our supposedly safe food supply. Thanks for all you’re doing to find and share some answers!

    • Thanks so much — and right — I was also worried it was Bisphenol-something-else — so it was nice to find out that it’s really ok. Honestly, because we can’t find organic tetra-paks, I only use them for crushed tomatoes if I really, really need them. Otherwise, I just use pasta sauce in glass, or chop my own fresh tomatoes. And thanks so much for the tip on coconut milk, I’ll have to look for that brand!

  3. Thank you for great information that industry really does not want us to know. People take for granted that our foods are safe and they trust the Government to protect us. Well that is just not the case and we need to hold our Government accountable.

  4. So infuriating. It kills me that they have an innocent until proven WAYYYYY guilty standard when it comes to food. Isn’t food what we should be most cautious about? Just absurd.

    • Exactly! FDA is supposed to warrant safety BEFORE something can be a food additive. I can’t see how the decision not to ban this — at least for now, pending more study — is either ethical or legal.

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