Health risks in a can

Posted by Josette Dunn on 1st September 2010

Laboratory tests by CHOICE of a range of popular canned foods including a number of baby food products has revealed concerning levels of the chemical Bisphenol A

Bisphenol A has been used for many years to make polycarbonate plastic and is found in epoxy resins which are used to line cans to prevent corrosion.  CHOICE tested 38 samples of canned foods commonly found on Australian supermarket shelves and found 29 contained BPA at levels some experts believe could be harmful.

The findings add to mounting consumer concern about BPA, and as a result food maker Heinz has announced it will introduce BPA-free packaging for all of its baby food brands.  “We welcome this move by Heinz and now call on the government to phase out BPA packaging for all baby foods and foods designed for toddlers and young children,”
says CHOICE spokesman Christopher Zinn.

“Opinion may be divided on the potential health hazards of BPA, but why take unnecessary risks especially with young children for whom exposure to these chemicals can mean increased health problems later in life.”

In CHOICE’s testing of a broad range of canned products, the highest levels of BPA (more than 200 parts per billion) were found in samples of Edgell Corn Kernels and
John West Tuna Olive Oil Blend.

Of particular concern, three samples of Heinz baby or children’s food were also within this high range, including one product which had a reading of between 300 ppb and
420 ppb. A further 17 samples had BPA levels within the 10 ppb-199 ppb range. Heinz’s announcement follows the recent decision by Australia’s major retailers to
phase out plastic baby bottles containing BPA in the wake of similar bans in Canada, Denmark and the United States.

“Our national regulator, Foods Standards Australia New Zealand, maintains low levels of BPA in food pose no significant health risk,” says Zinn.

“However a number of scientists believe this advice is based on out-dated research and say babies and small children in particular are at risk because of their small body
weight and rapid growth.”

BPA is an endocrine-disrupting chemical which has been linked to a number of illnesses such as infertility, breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, heart diseases and attention deficit disorder.

A spokesman for Heinz has told CHOICE: “While we believe there is no risk to consumers we are keen to allay any concern and so have opted to remove BPA from baby food packaging.”

Simplot (manufacturer of Edgell and John West) has told CHOICE it is currently testing cans with BPA-free linings.

The BPA Debate
FSANZ and other international food regulators maintain it is safe to consume 50 micrograms of BPA per kilogram of body weight per day.  None of the foods CHOICE tested delivers more than 10% of this amount per serving.  However a number of scientists are concerned this limit is based on studies done in the 1980s and say the limit of safe exposure should be set much lower.