Tests Find Wide Range of Bisphenol A in Canned Soups, Juice, and More

Consumer Reports’ latest tests of canned foods, including soups, juice, tuna, and green beans, have found that almost all of the 19 name-brand foods tested contain measurable levels of Bisphenol A (BPA). The results are reported in the December 2009 issue and also available online. BPA, which has been used for years in clear plastic bottles and food-can liners, has been restricted in Canada and some U.S. states and municipalities because it has been linked to a wide array of health effects including reproductive abnormalities, heightened risk of breast and prostate cancers, diabetes, and heart disease. I’ve reported on BPA here, here, and here.

Federal guidelines currently put the daily upper limit of safe exposure at 50 micrograms of BPA per kilogram of body weight. But that level is based on a handful of experiments done in the 1980s rather than hundreds of more recent animal and laboratory studies indicating that serious health risks could result from much lower doses of BPA. Several animal studies show adverse effects, such as abnormal reproductive development, at exposures of 2.4 micrograms of BPA per kilogram of body weight per day, a dose that could be reached by a child eating one or a few servings daily or an adult daily diet that includes multiple servings of canned foods containing BPA levels comparable to some of the foods Consumer Reports tested.

In keeping with established practices that ensure an adequate margin of safety for human exposure, Consumer Reports’ food-safety scientists recommend limiting daily exposure to BPA to one-thousandth of that level (standard safety limit setting practice), or 0.0024 micrograms per kilogram of body weight, significantly lower than FDA’s current safety limit.

Consumer Reports tested three different samples of each canned item for BPA and found that the highest levels of BPA tests were found in some samples of canned green beans and canned soups. Canned Del Monte Fresh Cut Green Beans Blue Lake had the highest amount of BPA for a single sample, with levels ranging from 35.9 parts per billon (ppb) to 191 ppb. Progresso Vegetable Soup BPA levels ranged from 67 to 134 ppb. Campbell’s Condensed Chicken Noodle Soup had BPA levels ranging from 54.5 to 102 ppb.

Average amounts in tested products varied widely. In most items tested, such as canned corn, chili, tomato sauce, and corned beef, BPA levels ranged from trace amounts to about 32 ppb. (A microgram BPA /kg food is equivalent to a ppb level found in food, the only difference being that it’s a microgram of BPA/kg of food tested versus the exposure or dose limits of microgram of BPA/kg of a person’s body weight per day. So, in the example of the green beans, based on one serving of the average level from three cans tested, the average concentration is 123.5ppb of BPA in the can, the next conversion is to ug BPA per serving, 14.9 ug BPA / serving of green beans, so for a small child (22lbs or 10kg) that would calculate to 1.49 ug BPA/kg-bw and for an adult (example used in the magazine, 165lb, 75kg) .20 ug BPA/kg bw for a 75kg adult.)

The study also revealed that bypassing metal cans in favor of other packaging such as plastic containers or bags might lower but not eliminate exposure to BPA, but this wasn’t true for all products tested. In addition, BPA was found in some products labeled as “organic” and some cans that claimed to be “BPA-free.”

“The findings are noteworthy because they indicate the extent of potential exposure,” said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, Director of Technical Policy, at Consumers Union, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. “Children eating multiple servings per day of canned foods with BPA levels comparable to the ones we found in some tested products could get a dose of BPA near levels that have caused adverse effects in several animal studies. The lack of any safety margin between the levels that cause harm in animals and those that people could potentially ingest from canned foods has been inadequately addressed by the FDA to date.”

Consumers Union has previously called on manufacturers and government agencies to act to eliminate the use of BPA in all materials that come in contact with food and beverages. An FDA special scientific advisory panel reported in late 2008 that the agency’s basis for setting safety standards to protect consumers was inadequate and should be reevaluated. A congressional subcommittee determined in 2009 that the agency relied too heavily on studies sponsored by the American Plastics Council.

Given the new findings, Consumers Union sent a letter to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg reiterating its request that the agency act this year to ban the use of BPA in food- and beverage-contact materials. FDA is expected to announce the findings of its most recent reassessment of the safety of BPA by the end of this month. Bills are currently pending in Congress that would ban the use of BPA in all food and beverage containers. Industry has been waging a fight against new regulations, and California Assembly members recently voted not to ban BPA from feeding products for children under three.

Consumer Reports is advising those who are concerned that they might be able to reduce, though not necessarily eliminate, their dietary exposure to BPA by taking the following steps:

Choose fresh food whenever possible.
Consider alternatives to canned food, beverages, juices, and infant formula.
Use glass containers when heating food in microwave ovens.

34 thoughts on “Tests Find Wide Range of Bisphenol A in Canned Soups, Juice, and More

  1. How is the BPA ending up in the canned food? I thought BPA came from a chemical in plastic. Is that wrong? It seems the only “safe” container is glass.

  2. Erin o-
    The BPA is used to line the inside of canned goods so the metal doesn’t interact w/ the food and deteriorate. So it is in almost all canned goods unfortunately :(

  3. Pingback: Tests Find Wide Range of Bisphenol A in Canned Soups, Juice, and More « Citizens.org

  4. Could the units of measurement given in this article be any more confusing? You start with a clear message on what is dangerous, given in “micrograms”, and then spend the rest of the article leaping between everything but that in a way that almost maximizes confusion. You wrote an entire paragraph of complete gibberish starting with “Average amounts in tested products varied widely…” Please figure out how to explain this topic in a simpler way. Parents reading this have no idea if they’re giving their kids fatal amounts of this substance, or just worrying amounts.

  5. BPA is in the resin liners of cans and leaches into the food inside. The study shows that it occurs in higher amounts than previously thought. BPA is a known endocrine disruptor, so while it may not kill you outright, it can mimic hormones when inside the body, confusing the body’s biological functioning. The affects can include lowered fertility, miscarriages, reproductive tract abnormalities, gender-bending, early puberty, reduced brain function, impaired immune function and cancer. Hope this helps.

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  8. @Anon – It is a little confusing, esp. if the reader isn’t aware that ug = micrograms. It took me a minute to unravel this sentence in particular: “…14.9 ug BPA / serving of green beans, so for a small child (22lbs or 10kg) that would calculate to 1.49 ug BPA/kg-bw and for an adult (example used in the magazine, 165lb, 75kg) .20 ug BPA/kg bw for a 75kg adult.)”

    Translation: a single serving of green beans averaged 1.49 micrograms/kg for a 22-lb child, or 0.20 micrograms/kg for a 165-lb adult.

  9. Bummer, but another good argument for eating the freshest food whenever possible, and growing/buying enough in season to put in the freezer for winer.

  10. Does anyone know if Tetra pack type packaging contains BPA?

    We live on a boat in Mexico… buying preserved food is a reality of life on a boat in a rural area… I wonder if we are making a safer choice with tetra packs (widely available in Mexico) vs. cans. My gut says yes, but… what’s the reality?

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  12. my girlfriend changed her water bottle after she found out it had BPA in it. she kept on smoking though.

  13. I can’t believe that even though they know things like these are harmful to us they still continue to produce them and not only that but, they let people consume their products! Talk about white collar crime!! Murderers!

  14. In response to the question posed by MasonReese, “why aren’t more people dying?” – it seems to me that more people are dying younger, and are sicker. I’m in my sixties and feel that my generation and the ones following are much sicker than my parents’ generation; several of my friends died of cancer before they were 45; others didn’t reach 60. When I questioned my parents (before they died at the healthy age of 89), only one of their friends had died of cancer at a young age. [Check out Samuel Epstein who calls it a “cancer epidemic.”] Of course, BPA is but one of many culprits, and everyone born into the nuclear and DDT age has been overly exposed to too much radiation, pesticides, toxins of all sorts – fluoride, vaccines, etc., plus all the medications for which we’ve been guinea pigs. How could we possibly not be suffering the consequences, though it often takes decades for them to appear? Is anyone else noticing this?

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  16. Don’t you think all medical advances that are being made also have something to contribute to it. I mean granted recent generations have been exposed to serious chemicals and what not but, doctors can identify many other conditions that probably existed many years ago such as Autism but were not detected then. People say its “more common” now a days but the thing is in earlier years doctors did not know what it was. Also,the media has improved tons so we know everything that is going on in the world opposed to earlier years when it was difficult to get information to everyone.

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  25. Next question: the tradeoff of BPA vs. metal in food or vs. less variety of food. Clearly more of a question in the lower socioeconomic strata.

  26. I just ran into another category of BPA packaging that might be unhealthy. When about to recycle a tall plastic can of Emerald cashews, I noticed that the plastic can has the dreaded number 7 inside the triangle on the can bottom, so it’s made of the BPA estrogen compound.

    Nuts are saturated with nut oils, which is why a few nuts resting on a napkin will create a sheen of oil on the napkin. If BPA can get into watery soup that’s in a BPA-lined can, then can BPA be infused in the oil inside nuts? These nuts quietly rest against the BPA plastic for several weeks or months after they are packaged. Is there any transfer of BPA onto and into the nuts?

    I wish I knew.

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  28. Naomi-

    Can I suggest you take a look at http://www.stats.org (George Mason University non-profit) and review a more in-depth examination than a shallow, mediocre magazine article in Consumer Reports can give you.

    In short, every test that has ever shown an issue with BPA used injection of BPA into the test animal. In every test using oral ingestion of BPA, even at ridiculously high levels, there was no issue. This appears to be because our digestive system can process BPA, attach a sugar molecule to it, then excrete it in urine.

    The tests are all bad. That doesn’t stop the media from chicken little behaviour. But it might stop you. Please take a read and make up your own mind.

    The only thing worse than a government cover-up is a media cover-up.