The jury is still out on just how risky the ubiquitous plastic additive bisphenol A is for people.
What besides green beans is in this can?
What besides green beans is in this can? iStockphoto.com
But for those of you who like to worry, Consumer Reports just published results from tests of a bunch of canned foods that revealed some pretty high readings in such pantry favorites as green beans and vegetable soup.
How, you might ask, does BPA wind up in metal cans? Which foods tested worst? And what should be done?
We put those questions to Dr. Urvashi Rangan, a toxicologist in charge of technical policy for Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports.
First, she said, metal cans have plastic liners to protect food, and some of them, such as common epoxy-based materials contain BPA. The liner can be white, yellow or transparent. "You can't look in a metal can and say whether BPA is there or not," she told us. "You just have to assume it's there unless it's noted otherwise."
The magazine had labs test a range of foods but the number of samples was fairly limited and should be looked at as a snapshot of the market. The easiest way to see a rundown of what they found is to review this table on the blog Buy Safe Eat Well or this Excel spreadsheet.
Standouts, in a bad way, were Del Monte Fresh Cut Green Beans with an average BPA of 123.5 parts per billion in the samples tested, and Progresso Vegetable Soup with BPA of 92.3 parts per billion.
Parts per billion of anything doesn't sound like much, but Rangan says the amounts found could lead a person with a modest appetite to blow right through the levels the Food and Drug Administration figures Americans are ingesting. That possibility plus Consumers Union's view that the BPA is pretty dangerous stuff leads them to argue BPA exposure limits should be tightened.
FDA, for its part, is reviewing its stand on BPA and food after controversy over an earlier assessment that said there was nothing much to worry about.
Rangan says, "There's enough evidence to warrant precaution and to prohibit the use of BPA in anything that would come into contact in food." In the meantime, she suggests looking for alternatives to cans, such as juice boxes and freezer bags. Also, when you microwave food, you're better off using glass or ceramic containers than plastic ones, she says.