We Get Greener Kit Cassingham & her Bigger Half

Yet Another Gotcha: Canned Food

My Bigger Half and I are so clever! Yes, it's true, we are. We learned about the problems with using plastic for drinking water from, storing food in, and using in our toys and shopping bags, and quite, or at least greatly reduced, our use of plastic. I sat on my smug laurels, and my backside, gloating over how good we were, missing one area we'd missed. You have probably missed the same thing because it's not visible to you either.

Canned foods. (Oh no! My emergency food supplies are mostly canned.) Well, if they are canned how are we missing the plastic link? Because most cans used in food storage have a plastic lining. And not just any plastic lining, but with BPA and phthalates!

BPA and phthalate are the worst of the plastics -- well, probably not the worst, but awfully darned bad -- to have in contact with your food. If you were eating fresh, whole foods this wouldn't be of the least concern to you. But some of the foods we cherish are canned. And, if you are stocking food in your larder for emergency situations, you will rely on canned foods too, unless you are more dedicated than even I am and make all of your own preserved food items, thus controlling what they are stored in.

Surely, you must be thinking, that little bit of plastic -- if it's even there -- can't be all that bad. Or can it? I even ask myself that question, and challenge My Bigger Half to consider the issue. Then I began my research in earnest.

A Bit About Plastic
BPA and phthalates are found in canned foods and sodas And it's also found in food microwaved in plastic. You'll find it in lots of types of plastics, but I'm focusing on canned foods in this article so will live only the warning of all of the plastics in your life. DEHP, a phthalate, is added to plastic to make it more flexible.

BPA and phthalates are endocrine-disrupting chemicals and impact the hormone system. BPA mimics estrogen, and can effect the developing brain, reproductive system, and mammary and prostate glands. Some phthalates have been found to interfere with reproductive development, especially in men. Using products that are free of those two families of chemicals goes a long way toward cleaning up your body, but going further will help more. Cut as much plastic out of your life as possible because all plastics contain estrogenic activity (EA) and harmful chemicals that leach into your food and body.

One study found that by eating only whole, natural foods -- no processed foods -- BPA and DEHP levels dropped by 50 and 60 percent within two days. The levels didn't drop lower because of the amount of plastics in our lives that we come into contact with regularly. The implication is that people can reduce their exposures by eating foods not purchased or stored in plastic or cans, and by choosing restaurants that serve only whole natural foods.

Another study found almost all commercially available plastic products leached chemicals having detectable EA. It didn't matter what product, type of resin, or retail source was tested, even those claiming to be BPA-free, they all released chemicals mimicking estrogen. This is important to know because the "non-BPA" claims probably don't mean you are avoiding EA chemicals, only BPA.

Many of the estrogen-mimicking plastics have been banned around the world from children's toys, bottles, and sippy cups. But laws haven't been passed protecting adults from the same chemicals. Bureaucratic and political delays keep proposed legislation on hold, even with the EPA campaigning about the hazards of the problems. If our laws aren't protecting us from the obvious plastic hazards you know we aren't being protected from the hidden hazards, like those found lining cans.

Don't wait for the laws to pass, start ridding your life of plastic now. The hardest one to get rid of though, if your pantry is like mine and filled with a wide variety of canned foods, is the plastic lining cans. Man, this isn't going to be easy. Where are we going to find sliced olives for My Bigger Half's fabulous stacked enchiladas?

Back To Canned Foods
Tomatoes, being highly acidic, are one of the canned products that have relied on BPA-containing linings to keep the integrity of the can. Any canned food containing tomato (pasta, canned ravioli, tomato sauce and paste, and stewed tomatoes, for starters) should be high on your avoid list. Sadly, even organic tomatoes have BPA-plastic lining.

There are some canned goods coming out with BPA-free linings, but the question becomes what are cans lined with? Could it be one of the plastics mentioned above that are just as bad at leaching estrogen-mimicking chemicals? My cynical side says, "Probably".

And just to add insult to injury, The Environmental Working Group reports evidence that "low doses of BPA spur the formation and growth of fat cells, the two factors" are driving obesity. Especially abdominal fat. Who needs help with that?!

It's up to each of us to clean up our own lives, and of the lives of the people we care for. Start by avoiding plastic packaging, which is really hard. It's become increasingly difficult to find prepared foods in glass containers, though even then the plastic lining many glass jar lids have contain these EA chemicals. And canned alternatives of course don't help.

Where does that leave you? I guess it depends on how seriously you want to take this health threat. Avoiding plastic is an easy, flip answer, but not a realistic alternative, unless you are going to do all of your own canning or eat only fresh foods. And rid your home of all plastics. You can avoid drinking hot liquids from plastic cups, given the heat speeds the leaching of EA chemicals from the plastic. You can reduce plastic wrapped foods. You can eliminate most canned foods, maybe. Or, you can contact your Legislators and urge them to get on the stick about passing the bills requiring the most harmful chemicals be banned from our lives.

An off-topic concern, but one to get your mind reeling, is the question about other products in your life. What about your toiletries (toothpaste, shampoo, lotions, makeup, deodorant, lip balm, for starters), sandwich bags, dairy containers, and other items you may buy regularly? And your non-organic foods and even your water supply may be suspect. There's only so much you can do without talking to your Legislators and Representatives.

Don't stop your research into the topic or your solutions with this article. It's my goal to raise the issues I face, share my research, and voice my decisions and intended actions. I hope you'll share your thoughts and actions so we can have a valuable dialogue and learn from each other.

Some of my resources for this article:

  • http://www.truthaboutabs.com/bpa-and-abdominal-fat.html
  • http://www.breastcancerfund.org/clear-science/innovative-research/food-packaging-study/?autologin=true
  • http://lifewithoutplastic.com/
  • http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info%3Adoi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.1003220
  • http://ht.ly/4TjXW
  • http://www.examiner.com/green-culture-in-mankato/green-living-101-what-food-brands-and-products-are-bpa-free?render=print
  • http://beyondgreen.weaversway.coop/2010/04/bpa-free-canned-tomatoes-coming-soon.html
  • http://www.cspinet.org/new/200804021.html


Heh, I bet even the canning jar lids that we use are covered with the same thing. Something's got to keep the high-acid foods from corroding the metal. So, do we all go out and try to find the old-style jars with the clamped glass lids and the rubber rings? And, what do I freeze in? If I'm addressing this issue, I guess buying yogurt in quarts and using the containers to freeze broth and applesauce is a huge no-no.

vlnvla at May 22, 2011 10:45 AM


You're right about most canning lids having the undesirable plastic lining. There are BPA-free lids:

But, if you keep the food level low and store the jars upright you at least can avoid contact with the plastic in the commonly found lids.

I wondered about canning wax, but my research indicates traditional paraffin has plastic in it. Can beeswax be used? Check it out, and then let me know.

Another thought that just came to me is whether drying foods can be an acceptable form of preserving foods? You could control what it's dried and stored in, which sounds good. I'd love to hear what others think of that option.

Freezing can be done in class or metal containers; I use glass, but it does have plastic lids. Pyrex lids seem to be BPA-free, but I don't know if they are EA-free. I wouldn't use yogurt tubs for my freezing. In fact, I'm not buying any yogurt or kefir in plastic anymore, only in glass. That sure is limiting my options, though.

It's tough being plastic-free.


Kit Cassingham at May 24, 2011 11:07 AM

Here's a history question. Canned food has been around for a very long time. Tin was the metal of choice. When was the plastic liner introduced? I doubt it was there when I was a kid, and we ate all kinds of canned foods.

Dave at January 4, 2012 7:43 PM

Dave, I looked for the answer for your question, with no success. I suspect you are right that plastic wasn't used -- at least much -- when you were growing up. But, I haven't found when plastic began to be used.

Anyone else?


Kit Cassingham at January 25, 2012 10:39 AM
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