Canned Food Raised Reporters' Bisphenol-A 2000%

Srinath TV/CC BY 2.0

An experiment in Sweden shows eating canned food clearly and drastically raises levels of bisphenol-A (BPA), though not higher than currently recommended safe levels.

Four Swedish reporters faced a savory (or unsavory) assignment: eat nothing but canned food for two days. The intrepid journalists enjoyed meals like canned beans and bacon or a tin of sardines for breakfast, served on plastic plates and accompanied by microwaved coffee in a plastic mug.

For lunch they could have tuna salad assembled from ingredients that all originated in cans, or canned ravioli, washed down with beer from a can, and followed by canned fruit served on top of ice cream made from tinned evaporated milk. Yum.

Svenska Dagbladet, the daily Swedish newspaper that orchestrated this experiment, to see how canned food affects BPA levels, counseled the journalists to follow their normal eating routines in the days leading up to the experiment, though on the final day before the 48 hours of canned food they attempted to eat "BPA-free."
The experiment, though not considered scientifically valid, was designed with the help of researchers from Lund University.

After the two-day experiment, the newspaper team sent urine samples from the four reporters to Lund's lab. The results, showing pre- and post-urinalysis, shocked the team.

All four of the experiment subjects had markedly ncreased levels of bisphenol A in their urine. The shocking part was that the levels (calculated as nanograms per milliliter) rose between 2,800 and 4,600 percent from the two days of eating nothing but canned.

Even with that huge rise, however, the reporters' BPA still fell below what the Swedish government estimates to be safe levels. Though the reporters basically stuffed themselves with bisphenol-A-laden foods, they didn't manage to raise levels over the government's standard of 50 micrograms per kilo of bodyweight daily.

In Sweden and elsewhere, safe levels of BPA, an estrogen-like chemical widely used in plastic products, are still being debated. The Swedes have (since April this year) outlawed the use of BPA in food packaging for children under three. The Environmental Working Group lists ten studies showing BPA is harmful at current levels.

But the US Food and Drug Administration has denied a recent petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council to have BPA outlawed from food packaging.

The FDA's conclusion: “scientific evidence at this time does not suggest that the very low levels of human exposure to BPA through the diet are unsafe.”

While the debate rages, if the Swedish experiment or an earlier one Lloyd reported on, by Canadian journalists, leaves you feeling conflicted about BPA exposure, here's a list of some companies that have phased BPA from some canned goods.

In addition, you can look to recycling codes on other plastic packaging to help you stay away from BPA. If the code is 3 or 7, BPA could be present. Don't put hot or boiling food in plastic with BPA present, and discard scratched plastic food containers, as BPA may more easily leach from these.

Tags: Chemicals | Food Safety | Sweden