I posted in August about our crazy weekend of canning tomatoes. Because we buy organic tomatoes, and because our CSA delivers them right to our door, we save very little money canning our own tomatoes vs. buying canned tomatoes at the store. So why go through the effort? One reason: BPA.
Bisphenol-A, which many different plastic products contain, has been shown to have some worrisome side effects, especially on fetuses and children, because it mimics the hormone estrogen. Canada was recently the first country to declare it toxic. (Has Canada ever considering annexing Minnesota? I’d be all for it.)
The United States’ own FDA is also concerned, but I am skeptical that they will ever do anything beyond encouraging industries to try and find a replacement. (They prefer to merely ask them, really, really nicely.)
The big brouhaha a couple years back with BPA was its use in infant bottles and linings of infant formula cans — many of those brands now offer BPA-free alternatives. But what many people didn’t realize was just how prevalent this stuff is — nearly any can of food that you buy in the grocery store is lined with BPA. Even store receipts are printed on BPA-coated paper!
Some applications of BPA are probably worse than others. Canned tomatoes are very acidic. Canned garbanzo beans, not so much. Yet, right now none of the organic canned tomatoes for sale at my co-op are in BPA-free cans. The only glass-jarred tomato products are the strained tomatoes and tomato paste from Bionaturae. (And those travel all the way from Italy, good grief.)
Here’s another thing to consider: even home-canning is not perfect, because the lids of canning jars are also coated with BPA. But I’m taking a “less harm” approach here — the tomatoes, as they sit on my shelf for the next few months, are not in contact with the lid at all. So it’s not perfect, but still better. Right? I hope so, because that was a lot of work.
Update, Nov. 8, 2010: Here’s yet another article that I came across this morning. Basically, a consumer group found unacceptable BPA levels in a bunch of different foods. Two things to note: this article is one year old. The U.S. is still only requiring “voluntary” efforts from the food industry.
Update II, Nov. 30, 2010: Now a new study looks at BPA’s effect on adult immune systems. The study also looked at triclosan’s correlation with allergies in children. Triclosan is another common chemical found in all sorts of things (such as anti-microbial soaps).
Update III, April 4, 2011: Yet another study. This one measured BPA in people’s urine; after only three days of switching to a diet of freshly-prepared organic food, they dropped 66% on average!
The cooks were instructed to avoid contact with plastic utensils, and nonstick cookware and foods had to be stored in glass containers with BPA-free plastic lids. Researchers even told food preparers not to overfill the containers so the food wouldn’t touch the plastic lid.
Microwaving in plastic was out; so was using coffee makers with plastic parts. Coffee drinkers got their morning coffee from French presses or ceramic drip models.
I switched to French Press quite some time ago, but didn’t even think about the plastic implications. I did it for the taste, naturally. Anyway, check out this study, the most convincing one yet, in my opinion.