Thursday, January 10, 2013

What's BPA and What's it Doing in My Food?

Why would we want to eat something called Bisphenol A (BPA)?  I don't think we do.

BPA is an industrial chemical that has been used in plastics and epoxy since the 1960s.  There is a lot of controversy about this chemical which is commonly used in food and beverage containers (including the lining in most food cans).  Many studies show that BPA can seep into our food and beverages, and then into our bodies.

In 2008, the Natural Resources Defense Council petitioned the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to eliminate BPA from all food packaging. When the agency failed to respond, NRDC sued in 2011 to make FDA respond. The court made the determination that the FDA must make a final decision on NRDC’s petition by March 31, 2012.  The FDA finally responded that they need to continue evaluating research.

According to the NRDC, "the FDA acknowledged in 2010 that it had “some concerns” about the chemical’s effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate glands in fetuses, infants, and young children. But the agency has only encouraged voluntary actions to reduce BPA exposure.  Since that time numerous studies have raised additional concerns about links between BPA and breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.

"Consumer demand for BPA-free products has already led to the withdrawal of baby bottles, “sippy cups’’ and infant formula containers containing the chemical from store shelves.  Canada, the European Union, China, and at least five other countries as well as 11 U.S. states, all have prohibited the use of BPA in children’s products.

"In addition, some U.S. canned food manufacturers are voluntarily removing BPA from can linings, but BPA remains legal to use in all food packaging."

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), "certain plastics called polycarbonates leach low levels of BPA into food or liquids. Leaching from plastic baby bottles and food containers appears to happen at a much lower level than found in canned foods and baby formula. Nevertheless it is good to take simple precautions.

"BPA is found in polycarbonate plastic food containers often marked on the bottom with the letters "PC" recycling label #7. Not all #7 labeled products are polycarbonate but this is a reasonable guideline for a category of plastics to avoid. Polycarbonate plastics are rigid and transparent and used for sippy cups, baby bottles, food storage, and water bottles. Some polycarbonate water bottles are marketed as 'non-leaching' for minimizing plastic taste or odor, however there is still a possibility that trace amounts of BPA will migrate from these containers, particularly if used to heat liquids."

Is this not enough?  BPA is used in making store receipts.  The EWG reported in 2010 that "two-fifths of the paper receipts tested by a major laboratory commissioned by EWG were on heat-activated paper that was between 0.8 to nearly 3 percent pure BPA by weight. Wipe tests conducted with a damp laboratory paper easily picked up a portion of the receipts' BPA coating, indicating that the chemical would likely stick to the skin of anyone who handled them. The receipts came from major retailers, grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, fast-food restaurants, post offices and automatic teller machines (ATMs).

"Major retailers using BPA-containing receipts in at least some outlets included McDonald's, CVS, KFC, Whole Foods, Walmart, Safeway and the U.S. Postal Service. Receipts from some major chains, including Target, Starbucks and Bank of America ATMs, issued receipts that were BPA-free or contained only trace amounts

"Scientists have not determined how much of a receipt's BPA coating can transfer to the skin and from there into the body. Possibilities being explored include:
  • Oral exposure -- BPA moves from receipts onto fingers and then onto food and into the mouth.
  • Dermal exposure -- BPA from receipts is directly absorbed through the skin into the body.
"A study published July 11 by Swiss scientists found that BPA transfers readily from receipts to skin and can penetrate the skin to such a depth that it cannot be washed off (Biedermann 2010). This raises the possibility that the chemical infiltrates the skin's lower layers to enter the bloodstream directly. BPA has also been shown to penetrate skin in laboratory studies (Kaddar 2008)."

My local food co-ops use the BPA-free paper so I don't mind handling my receipts.  

What Can You Do?
  • Choose fresh food whenever possible like fresh vegetables and fruit instead of canned or dried beans instead of canned.
  • Write a letter to the companies you purchase from and tell them you don't want your food packaged in BPA, or your water bottle lined with BPA, or the food containers you use to contain BPA.
  • Start buying from the companies that use BPA-free packaging.  Visit these web sites for a list for canned food, sippy cups, reusable water bottles, and lunch containers.
  • Start storing your food in glass jars with metal lids.  Save those salsa and nut butter jars!
  • Do not heat food in plastic containers in the microwave--even if  it says "microwave safe." 
  • Use stainless steel, porcelain, or glass containers for hot foods.
  • Watch for bottled beverages with plastic caps--these can contain BPA as well.
Eden Organics uses BPA-free cans for beans