BPA and Canned Tomatoes

by Ellen


Photo Credit: The Bitten Word on flickr

I used to cook a lot of quick, healthy dinners using organic canned tomatoes.  Chili, soups, sauces, casseroles — they all were made easier through the miracle of modern canning.  I figured we were still getting all the great nutrients of home-canned organic tomatoes without having to grow and put up our own vegetables.

Then the BPA scare hit.  Bisphenol A (BPA) is a nasty estrogen-mimicking chemical that has been implicated as a a risk factor for heart disease, obesity and diabetes.  BPA has also been linked to reproductive problems and reduced sperm count.¹   Exposure to BPA during development is associated with an increased risk of breast, prostate and testicular cancers.  It’s even linked to neurobehavioral disorders.²

No question that BPA is best avoided.  Scarily, most of us have it in our bodies:

One reason people may be concerned about BPA is because human exposure to BPA is widespread. The 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found detectable levels of BPA in 93% of 2517 urine samples from people six years and older. The CDC NHANES data are considered representative of exposures in the United States. Another reason for concern, especially for parents, may be because some animal studies report effects in fetuses and newborns exposed to BPA.³

A new study confirms the elevated risk of heart disease due to BPA exposure:

Researchers have confirmed that the bisphenol A (BPA) — widely used in plastics including baby bottles and other drink containers — increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Patients with the highest levels of the endocrine disruptor in their urine carried a 33% increased risk of coronary heart disease, a follow-up analysis of National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data showed.4

Canned tomatoes in the United States contain BPA.

As Prevention.com reported, canned tomatoes made the list of foods that experts don’t eat.  Tomatoes are acidic and will react with the metal in the cans if the cans aren’t coated with something.  This interior coating contains BPA.  Unfortunately, tomatoes also react with the epoxy resin that lines cans.

Do we need to stop using store-bought canned tomatoes?

I’d heard rumors that Bionaturae offered organic tomatoes free of BPA, so I sent them an email to confirm.  I asked whether their liners of canned tomatoes contained BPA.  I also inquired about the tomato products in jars, since I was concerned that the liners of the lids might have BPA.  They allowed me to print their response:

Dear Ellen,

We confirm that the lining of our organic canned tomatoes does contain Bisphenol A, BPA.  We have spoken with all major can manufacturers who confirm there are no cans available for tomato products at this time that do not contain BPA in the lining. Over 200 types of BPA free linings are currently being tested, but are not available yet. Cans are made by large multinational firms that all offer the same thing, so we are told when the new lining is approved, they will available to everyone at the same time.

As a company, we truly care about this problem. We therefore offer two tomato products in glass jars (strained and paste) that do not contain BPA. We recognize this as a serious health concern and will strive to offer more BPA-free tomato products in the future. We have tested our canned tomatoes for the presence of BPA at independent laboratories and the test results have always been negative at a level of .005 parts per million, but we do not deny the presence of BPA in the lining. If the can was unlined, we are told the lycopene in the tomatoes would react with the can and metals would leach into the product. This is why we continue to use the lined can.

Thank you for your interest in this important matter.


Enter Tetra Pak.

You can find chopped tomatoes and purees in paper cartons made by Tetra Pak.  Both Pomi brand tomatoes and the Trader Joe’s  Italian Tomato Starter Sauce are packaged in Tetra Pak containers.  These containers are BPA-free and recyclable.  Neither one of these products is organic.

I decided to ask Tetra Pak what the metallic lining of their cartons was made of.  After all, the whole reason cans are lined with an epoxy resin is to keep the food from coming in contact (and reacting with) the metal of the can.

So, why is the inside of the Tetra Pak container a shiny metallic color?

The Communications manager of Tetra Pak US and Canada also kindly answered my emails inquiring about the make-up of their tomato containers.  I learned that the cartons are comprised of paper, polyethylene and aluminum foil.

While the inside of the container is shiny, the Tetra Pak representative assured me that the aluminum does not come in contact with the tomatoes.  There are two layers of see-through polyethylene between the aluminum and the food.

For those of us who haven’t frozen or canned organic tomatoes, what tomatoes should we choose?

  • Jarred organic tomatoes from Bionaturae.  (I just noticed that Alicia at the Soft Landing is researching the same topic! She found that these lids are lined with a resin made from PVC — I don’t know all the details and will have to check with Bionaturae.)
  • Conventional tomatoes in Tetra Pak cartons
  • Organic tomatoes in season.
  • Wait for the new, safer (I hope!) cans to hit the shelves.

A word on the plastics involved:  The Green Guide has a good review of the different types of plastic used in food grade containers.  Polyethylene seems to come out as a good choice.  PVC — not so good.   What’s the bottom line?  The choice for me seems to be between non-organic tomatoes in a Tetra Pak carton and organic tomatoes in glass with a (possibly) PVC-containing lid.  Instead of stressing out too much, I’ve decided that both choices are probably better than organic tomatoes in cans that contain BPA!

This post is part of Real Food Wednesdays, hosted by Cheeseslave.

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1) Prevention.com: 7 Foods that Shoud Never Cross Your Lips by Anne Underwood.

2) A Tale of Two Estrogens: BPA and DES. The Breast Cancer Fund.

3)  National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: Since You Asked — Bisphenol A (BPA)

4)  Heart Risk of BPA Confirmed, Kristina Fiore, Staff Writer, MedPage Today. 1/13/1020

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