Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Some BPA With Your Soup?

 I was researching lead poisoning for a potential blogpost topic earlier this week, and I came across this pamphlet from April 2009: Lead Prevention by the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Illinois Lead Program. It gave plenty of tips for preventing lead poisoning in children—many of them I’ve heard before. But there was one tip that gave me pause:
  • “Do not store food in open cans or pottery.”

That’s it. I have to get down to the bottom of this. I’ve heard varying rumors both for and against storing food in metal cans. I know this isn’t the most pressing topic, but, come on.  We’ve all wondered. We’ve all stood in front of the fridge, a half-full can of beans in hand, contemplating the risks. 

The United States Department of Agriculture has the answer, and they settle the question about storing opened canned food in the fridge for once and for all:
After opening canned foods, is it safe to refrigerate the unused food in the can?
Yes. Unused portions of canned food may be refrigerated in the can, but to preserve optimum quality and flavor, place the unused portion in a glass or plastic storage container.
This “optimum quality and flavor” is addressed further down the page:
Then there's can corrosion. In all foods, but especially in high-acid foods like canned tomatoes, natural chemicals in the food continually react with the container. Over several years, this can cause taste and texture changes, and eventually lower the nutritional value of the food.
This explains the metallic taste that acidic foods (tomatoes, pineapple) will acquire after sitting in an open can.

A metallic taste is one thing, but lead poisoning is another entirely. So, DOES canned food carry a risk of lead poisoning? The USDA says no:
Do cans contain lead?
The canned food industry in the United States stopped using lead-soldered cans in 1991. In 1995, the Food and Drug Administration issued a final rule prohibiting the use of lead solder in all food cans, including imported products. Metal cans, which are made of sheet steel — sometimes with a coating of tin — are now welded closed at the seams. The inside of the can may also have an enamel or vinyl protective coating.
So, there’s that. No lead in canned goods. And as an added bonus, it appears that the canned goods corporations have solved the problem of metallic-tasting pineapples: this magical protective coating!
Yet this “magical protective coating” often contains something pretty terrifying. In late 2009, consumer watch-dog organization Consumer Report stated that over 92% of canned goods in the United States contained BPA.

Yeah. BPA. The chemical that “… mimics human hormones and has been classified as an endocrine disruptor," and “linked to reproductive abnormalities and a heightened risk of breast and prostate cancers, diabetes, and heart disease.”

China, Malaysia, Canada, and the European Union have all banned BPA from being used in baby bottles, and while the United States has taken no federal steps regarding BPA, multiple states and municipalities have outlawed it in infant products or food packaging as well. Inspired by the ban, many people are seeking out BPA-free baby bottles and water bottles, but are unaware of the prevalence of BPA in products such as canned food.

While some manufacturers  are committed to removing BPA from their packaging, others have tried to downplay the dangers of BPA. The Coca-Cola Company, for example, tries to assuage the fears of consumers, saying in the Fox News article
A person weighing 135 pounds (61 kg) would need to ingest more than 14,800 12-ounce cans of a beverage in one day to approach the FDA's acceptable daily limit for BPA consumption.
Wait. BPA is in Coke cans?

I think a lawyer telling me that it would take a thousand pounds of their secret, man-made chemical for me to feel the effects doesn’t make me feel any better. I’d prefer to not have any secret, man-made chemicals at all. 

So, what to do?

A few months ago, scientists from the Breast Cancer Fund and the Silent Spring Institute performed a study on five families who regularly ingested canned food and other packaged products containing BPA. After abruptly switching each families’ diet to one of strictly fresh, organic food served in glass or stainless steel containers, 
...their BPA levels dropped on average by 60 percent. Reductions were even more pronounced-75 percent-for those with the highest exposures. When families returned to their regular diets, their BPA levels increased back to pre-intervention levels."
So the question isn’t really “is it safe to store open canned food in the refrigerator.” The question is “are canned foods safe." They seem pretty dicey to me. I guess the only solution to this is to try and eat only fresh, organic food. And if you can’t afford organic food (like me!), just be sure to wash off the pesticides before you eat 'em!

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