By Emily Lavin
The canned food you use in your family's favorite Thanksgiving side dishes may contain traces of the toxic chemical bisphenol A, or BPA.
BPA is a chemical found in the plastics and resins that are used to package food, and in the lining of metal cans. That lining is designed to form a barrier between the metal and the food, helping to protect your food from bacterial contamination. Previous studies have found that BPA can seep into food or beverages, prompting many manufacturers of sippy cups, reusable water bottles and plastic food storage containers to go BPA-free.
While the long-term effects of BPA on humans are still unclear, recent studies have shown that BPA can release chemicals that act like estrogen, and may negatively impact the development of fetuses, babies and young children. Lab studies that tested the effects of BPA on animals and cells have linked the chemical to cancer, infertility, diabetes and obesity.
In a 2011 study, the Breast Cancer Fund sent 28 cans in total — four cans each of 7 different products used in popular Thanksgiving dishes — to an independent lab to see how much BPA might be present during an average Thanksgiving meal. The canned goods tested included Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup, Campbell's Turkey Gravy, Carnation Evaporated Milk, Del Monte Fresh Cut Sweet Corn, Cream Style Green Giant Cut Green Beans, Libby's Pumpkin and Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberry Sauce.
What'd the lab find? Well, the results varied. According to the study, single servings (about 120 g) of about half the products had levels of BPA at or above 11 ppb (part per billion), comparable to the amount linked to adverse health effects in lab studies. Different cans of the same product had different levels of BPA, meaning consumers "have absolutely no way of knowing what their levels of exposure might be," according to the study.
The National Institute of Health has dedicated $20 million over the next several years to BPA research. If you're concerned about BPA exposure, you can reduce your risk by looking for containers that are marked "BPA-Free." Or, try thinking outside the can this Thanksgiving: try to choose fresh or frozen vegetables, look for soup that comes in a carton and use fresh pumpkin for everyone's favorite Turkey Day dessert.
Emily Lavin is a health writer and editor living in San Francisco.
Published November 15, 2011.