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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Sources:

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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Comments on this entry are closed.

Raine February 3, 2010 at 10:03 am

Hi Ellen – I don’t know if you have checked this information out yet or not (maybe you’re ahead of me and already contacted), but I have been buying Eden organic tomatoes and beans because they have a statement on their web site that they do not use BPA:

http://www.edenfoods.com/faqs/view.php?categories_id=5#faq43

Hopefully this is helpful. I sincerely hope they really do not use BPA. I will contact them today and find out if their statement is still current. Thanks for this article!

Wardeh @ GNOWFGLINS February 3, 2010 at 10:07 am

Thanks for doing this research, Ellen. I haven’t bought canned tomatoes since I learned about this, but I’m also still using up a supply of canned paste. I have about two cans left and was wondering what I’d do to replace them. I’m glad to know what my options are. I’ll be anxious for those BPA free cans to hit the market!

BodyEarth February 3, 2010 at 10:25 am

Thanks so much for your comment and link, Raine.
I had also heard that Eden canned beans are BPA-free, which is excellent. However, I believe that their tomato cans still do contain BPA for some reason. Please let me know what you find out!

BodyEarth February 3, 2010 at 10:30 am

Hi, Wardeh!
I’m really looking forward to the new cans, too, since the jarred tomatoes are pretty expensive. Sometimes I spring for the the Bionaturae and sometimes I buy Pomi or TJ’s. I found a can of tomatoes in our cabinet today and am not sure what I’ll do with it…

chanelle February 3, 2010 at 11:01 am

thanks for this informative post and great research. I have heard the buzz about bpa, but hadn’t researched it yet. It’s good to know my healthy options!

jenna Food WIth Kid Appeal February 3, 2010 at 12:32 pm

coming over from RFW. Thank you so much for writing this post. I’ve had “explore alternative tomato source” on my to do list since I read the list of 7 foods the experts won’t eat. I will probably be linking to this post soon!

BodyEarth February 3, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Chanelle and Jenna,
I’m so glad you found the post useful! I knew that BPA was bad, but I had no idea HOW bad until I started to research a little more deeply. At least there are some BPA-free options out there.

Betsy DeVergilio February 3, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Hi Ellen, I thought Eden tomatoes were BPA free, but when I read your blog I began to doubt my information. I have been buying cases of Eden tomatoes when I can find them. I was even informed at one health food store that the cans did not contain BPA. I started doing some research and although cans of Eden beans do not contain BPA, the tomatoes do. Here is a website explaining why this is the case.
http://www.edenfoods.com/articles/view.php?articles_id=178
Betsy

BodyEarth February 3, 2010 at 6:10 pm

That’s really useful information, Betsy! Thanks for including the link. It’s too bad that tomatoes are too acidic for the BPA-free resin that Eden uses in its bean cans.
I’m so sorry to hear you got bad information and bought all those tomatoes when you thought they were “safe.”

Lindsay February 3, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Bottling tomatoes is really not difficult! They are tasty!

kc February 3, 2010 at 11:17 pm

I think the real problem is that the lids for all the commonly available canning jars also contain BPA. I would at least like the option of avoiding BPA by canning my own tomatoes.

Jen February 4, 2010 at 2:05 am

Great post! I saw the article about foods the experts won’t eat, and was bummed about canned tomatoes!

I decided to buy the Bionaturae strained tomatoes and paste in jars from Tropical Traditions, when they had a free shipping day recently. They are pricey, but worth it to me. I haven’t had any luck finding them locally yet, which I would prefer. If it’s any consolation for the price, they are REALLY good!

Debbie February 5, 2010 at 9:05 am

Great post – thank you!

BodyEarth February 5, 2010 at 7:53 pm

kc, I’d love to find brands of canning jars with BPA-free lids, too. I re-use jars for all kinds of food storage and sometimes notice a bad odor when the jars have been closed (empty) for a long time. I have no idea what is causing the odor, but I doubt it’s the glass!

Jen, I’m glad you could find the Bionaturae tomatoes. I agree on both counts: They are expensive, but good.

I appreciate your comments, Lindsay and Debbie!

andrea February 13, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Ellen,

A bit late to the party, but I do have a question! My friends and I put up 80lbs of tomatoes last fall, in a mix of glass jars, ziploc containers (#5), and ziploc freezer bags (#4). If we do it again, what’s the best option, from the BPA pov?

BodyEarth February 13, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Hi, Andrea. Thanks for commenting!
I’m so envious of your 80 lbs. of tomatoes. We had such a rainy summer that our “crop” was miserable.
As for what the best container is, I’ve read that a good choice is Weck Canning Jars(glass with rubber seals on the lids that are supposedly BPA-free). However, I haven’t contacted the company myself. I’ve heard that you should make sure the seals you get are the 100% rubber ones.

I don’t know what kind of glass jars you used. It’s the seal that might contain BPA. Your other 2 plastics (#4 and #5) are BPA-free.

Enjoy your tomatoes!

sharon castelli February 16, 2010 at 6:10 pm

thank you ellen for doing this research! i stopped buying tomatoes in cans when i first heard of bpa. we have to be so vigilant!

BodyEarth February 17, 2010 at 6:59 am

I know, Sharon. I have used so many cans of tomatoes! Thanks for stopping by!

JPJ April 4, 2010 at 11:45 pm

http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~conten

This is a website that says there is hydrochloric acid in PVC based organosol laquer. This is supposedly the chemical they use in the lids of the Bionaturae’s lid. Another website said there was chlorine in it…I guess pesticides may be better …scary!

JPJ April 5, 2010 at 11:40 am

BTW-Here is the reply when I asked bionaturae about the PVC

The lids of our jars do not contain BPA but they do contain a small percentage of PVC in the round seal that you see on the inner surface of the lid. This is used to secure the closure of the lid and at this time, we have been unable to use a PVC-free compound, although we continue to search for an alternative. We have found that all packaging materials have a negative aspect, but we make our best efforts to determine which is the less harmful.

In our unique manufacturing process, the tomatoes are pasteurized before they are filled in the jar and without the lid. That means that when the lid is adhered, the temperature has already cooled. It may be possible for PVC to migrate into food by direct contact and at certain temperatures, but we are far below these temperatures and there is no contact of the tomatoes with the lid during our production cycle. We have never found any level of PVC in the finished product. You must also consider that the percentage of surface area of the lid compared to the glass is very small and we therefore feel glass bottles are the purest packaging. Other packaging options for tomatoes, mainly tin cans and Tetrapak, are entirely lined with plastics that have direct contact with a much higher percentage of the food.
Thank you for your interest in this very important issue.

Thank you for your interest in our products.
All the best,
bionaturae Customer Service Relations
info@bionaturae.com

BodyEarth April 5, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Thank you so much for all your research, JPJ. It’s very interesting what Bionaturae said about the packing temperatures and the PVC. Also, it’s reassuring that they have never found any PVC in the finished product. Great information!

Linda August 25, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Why doesn’t anyone offer whole, diced or crushed tomatoes in glass jars? At Bionaturae, their whole, diced & crushed tomatoes are in cans (with some BPA in them). Their only tomatoes in glass jars are strained (w/o seeds- basically juice) & paste. For those of us concerned about BPA, that would seem a reasonable option. Most spaghetti/marinara/pasta sauces come in glass jars. It would make sense to put the tomatoes in glass jars too.

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