For 40 years we ate and drank from containers containing bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used in producing polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. Those substances are found in hundreds of products, from water bottles to compact discs and medical devices. Until recent years, the American public didn’t suspect that BPA could be harmful.
This week, BPA is in the news: the Breast Cancer Fund, a California-based organization working to identify and eliminate environmental causes of breast cancer, issued a report blasting the use of BPA in canned foods aimed at kids.
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Why is BPA dangerous?
In 2010, the National Toxicology Program (NTP), collaborating with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, issued a statement expressing “some concern”regarding the effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland in fetuses, infants and children. BPA can leach from the materials in plastic tableware, baby cups, and the epoxy resin coatings inside cans, especially when those products are heated, releasing the harmful chemical into food and liquids we consume.
BPA leaches because the ingredients used in producing polycarbonates and epoxy resins are just loosely bound enough that they break down under heat or when damaged. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about BPA: In 2008, following news reports about possibly harmful effects of BPA in plastic water bottles, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared that the amount of BPA exposure Americans receive from food-related materials on the shelves at that time was safe. However, more recent studies prompted the NTP to take another look.
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How dangerous is canned food for kids?
For their report, BPA in Kids' Canned Food, the Breast Cancer Fund studied six canned foods that are marketed directly to youngsters: Annie’s Homegrown Cheesy Ravioli; Campbell’s Disney Princess Cool Shapes, Shaped Pasta with Chicken in Chicken Broth; Campbell’s Spaghettios with Meatballs; Campbell’s Toy Story Fun Shapes, Shaped Pasta with Chicken in Chicken Broth; Chef Boyardee Whole Grain Pasta, Mini ABC’& 123’s with Meatballs; and Earth’s Best Organic Elmo Noodlemania Soup.
All six products tested positive for BPA, with the Campbell’s soups—Princess Cool Shapes and Toy Story Fun Shapes—testing the highest.
The Breast Cancer Fund’s report stresses that it is not the occasional canned-soup lunch that has them worried, but “…the repeated servings of canned soups, pastas, vegetables, fruits that a child eats in a week, in a year, and throughout her developing years, are what drive our…campaign.”
How can you protect your family?
The jury is still out on just how much BPA exposure is safe for children and adults. The FDA's National Center for Toxicological Research continues to study BPA, and the Breast Cancer Fund is staging a “Cans Not Cancer” campaign to get BPA out of canned foods and replace it with a safer substance.
In the meantime, parents can take steps to protect their infants and children from possibly harmful effects of BPA:
- The Centers for Disease Control advises mothers to breastfeed babies for at least their first 12 months, if possible, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Discard scratched baby bottles and feeding cups. Damaged utensils harbor germs, and they might release small amounts of BPA.
- Don’t pour hot baby formula or other liquids into bottles or cups that contain BPA. When you mix powdered formula with water, heat it in a BPA-free container and allow it to cool down before transferring it to the baby’s bottle.
- Never heat baby bottles in a microwave oven. If a ready-to-feed liquid needs to be heated, warm it by running warm water over the bottle.
- After sterilizing and cleaning baby bottles, allow them to cool before adding formula or milk.
- Canned formula does contain small amounts of BPA. The good nutrition in the formula outweighs the small risk of BPA exposure when baby drinks the formula, but be sure never to heat formula in the can.
- Every plastic container displays a recycle code on the bottom. Those with code 3 or 7 may contain BPA; take special care to avoid putting hot liquid in these bottles and cups.
- The Breast Cancer Fund suggests cooking with fresh and whole foods, rather than canned, as much as possible: instead of canned macaroni lunches, consider cooking dry pasta and mixing it with fresh or jarred sauce. Instead of canned soup, buy prepared soups-in-a-box—the large boxes that resemble oversized juice boxes, now available in most supermarkets. And instead of canned fruit, cut up fresh or dried fruits for kids’ snacks