Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
12 Jan

Are Your Canned Foods Safe to Eat?: A BPA-Free Buying Guide

By now, you’re undoubtedly aware of BPA, or bisphenol A, and its ubiquitous presence in can liners, plastics, and even receipts. I wrote about its status as a xenoestrogen with the ability to interact with hormonal receptors in animal bodies, as well as its potentially deleterious effects on humans – especially tiny growing humans – and the general takeaway is that avoiding BPA as much as possible is in all our best interests. We can’t avoid everything, but we can do a fairly good job of it. Luckily, the consumers (that’s you) have spoken up loud enough to get companies to pay attention to the way they line their cans so that while BPA remains a pervasive issue, more and more BPA-free products are being introduced. This is good, but which ones are BPA-free isn’t always evident. Grocery stores don’t generally have a BPA-free section (how awesome would that be?) and some (like Trader Joe’s) don’t even put the label on their products.

Hence this post. What follows is my attempt at a comprehensive BPA-free list of commonly sought-after Primal foods. I tried to shoot for products that are widely available online, but I wasn’t always able. You’ll also note that I stuck to Primal-friendly foods; I didn’t think mentioning the latest BPA-free can of fried gluten with peanuts made much sense, ya know? In any case, here’s the list!

Coconut Milk

Obviously, the best BPA-free coconut product is the coconut itself. Mother nature has always used BPA-free lining (she was way ahead of the curve), so you can safely eat fresh coconut and coconut oil and make coconut milk from the fresh meat and you’ll be fine. But not everyone has ready access to fresh coconut, nor does everyone have the time (or the machete) to open up a coconut and process it into milk. For everyone else, the historic go-to option for coconut products has almost invariably come in a can lined with ample amounts of BPA. Not anymore:

Native Forest Coconut Milk

BPA-free and proud of it, Native Forest offers an organic coconut milk widely available for sale in bulk via Amazon. I’ve never tried it myself, but the reviews – as you can see from the Amazon link – are quite mixed. They apparently source the coconuts from various locales, with Thailand producing the best milk and Sri Lanka producing inferior milk. Again, I don’t know personally, but keep that in mind before you order two dozen cans.

Aroy-D Coconut Milk and Cream

My personal favorite, Aroy-D, comes straight from Thailand (which has the best coconuts, in my opinion) and contains nothing but coconut and water. The tetra-pak versions are completely BPA-free, and the best product is the large quart sized box of coconut cream (which you can treat like a higher-fat milk), but the milk, which comes in both quart and single-serving sizes, is also delicious (but a bit lower in fat, about 2 grams per serving worth). I get mine at the local Asian supermarkets for about 3 bucks a quart.

Trader Joe’s Light Coconut Milk

I had to call and confirm with the manager of my local Trader Joe’s, but these cans do not contain BPA. The only downside is that they contain “light” coconut milk, which means they have a lower fat content. Not so great for curries, but pretty good for drinking straight or making smoothies. They’re also free of thickeners or weird gums.

Coconut Cream Concentrate in a glass jar

It ain’t milk, but sources say that adding warm water to the coconut cream concentrate will produce a rich, creamy coconut milk. And it’s a glass jar, so you don’t have to worry about BPA at all (though I suppose the lid might have it). Here are US and Canadian links. International shipping is available through the US site, too.

Tomato Products

If you remember from that older BPA post, canned tomato is one of the worst offenders when it comes to BPA exposure. It’s highly acidic, making BPA in cans “essential.” And yet, tomato is a wonderful, even essential food. So – what to do? Bite the BPA-emblazoned bullet and eat them anyway? No. You can can your own tomatoes, but other, safer commercial options are out there:

Pomi Chopped Tomatoes

Pomi Chopped Tomatoes, out of Italy (where I hear they know a thing or two about tomatoes), comes in a BPA-free tetra-pak. Word on the street is that although they aren’t certified organic, they are in everything but name.

Bionaturae Tomato Paste and Strained Tomatoes

This is the brand I currently use. The paste is incredible – it comes in a glass jar (with a BPA-free lid, which is an important point that some people miss, especially when dealing with acidic, BPA-leaching foods like tomatoes; not all glass jars use BPA-free lids), contains nothing but tomatoes, and can be eaten (and often is) straight out of the jar. These are a bit dangerous, because they’re somewhat pricey and I can easily eat an entire jar in a sitting. Maybe I should say “standing,” because I usually find myself polishing one off while I’m cooking in the kitchen. I’ve taken to stocking up on these. The strained tomatoes are also good and come in similarly BPA-free packaging. Members of Tropical Traditions can get better deals in bulk, I believe. I highly recommend this brand.

Seafood

Ah, the sardine. So delicious and nutritious and sustainable and free of mercury and yet so difficult to find fresh. Canned versions abound, but they’re all full of BPA… right? Not so fast. Other options exist:

Wild Planet Tuna and Sardines

My local Costco just started carrying BPA-free Wild Planet albacore tuna, skipjack tuna, and sardines. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Wild Planet, but it wasn’t until recently that I actually tried the products. They’re fantastic. Both the albacore and the skipjack are line and troll-caught, which is a sustainable method of procuring smaller, tastier tuna with less mercury than regular tuna. They’re both high in DHA and EPA, with albacore clocking in at 2.3 g DHA and 720 mg EPA per can, and skipjack close behind with 928 mg DHA and 285 mg EPA per can. The sardines are bone- and skin-in, providing hefty amounts of minerals alongside 885 mg DHA and 210 mg EPA. Oh, and they taste better than any similar product I’ve tried. Check out their offerings on Amazon; international shipping can be handled by calling the company direct.

Update: Mark’s Daily Apple reader Chris emailed Wild Planet to double check my personal experience as noted above and this is what they had to say:

Hello Chris,

Thank you for question about our products. Wild Planet aims to convert all of its canned products to cans with BPA-Free linings. We have successfully done so with all our sardine offerings. Our tuna products were marked BPA-free based on the manufacturer’s certification that the can linings were formulated without BPA. Upon independent testing of these cans we found that while the level is very low there is some content of BPA in the product. We are working on this issue very actively right now and hope to have definitive information soon.

As for the salmon cans, there is no BPA-free lining available in Alaska and our attempts to make BPA-free salmon has not rendered good results. But we will keep trying.

Thank you for question and I hope this helps.
Elizabeth

Thanks, Chris!

Trader Joe’s (certain choices)

Most sources I found suggest that Trader Joe’s seafood comes in BPA-free cans, except for sardines, albacore, oysters, clams, and crab (though they are working to rectify that). So the various salmons and tongol tuna, and maybe the anchovies (but I wouldn’t bet on it) should be BPA-free (but ask a manager first).

Vital Choice Canned Seafood

Way back in 2008, Vital Choice finally figured out how to make all their canned seafood items ship in BPA-free cans, but in 2009, Consumer Reports found trace amounts of BPA in Vital Choice tuna. The company responded, including a section of mild apologism for BPA (which is worrying) and concluding with a declaration of intent to purge all BPA for good. What’s the final word? I would avoid their tuna to be safe and stick to their salmon, sardines, and mackerel, which never tested positive for BPA.

Oregon’s Choice Seafood

A small outfit out of (you guessed it) Oregon, Oregon’s Choice uses only BPA-free cans to store the tuna they obtain from trusted fishermen. Pretty pricey, but it seems to be of the utmost quality. Sadly, they don’t claim that any of their other products are BPA-free, which almost certainly means they are not.

Pumpkin

Add it to broth for a nourishing quick soup, add some gelatin and hot water to make a custard, add it to your dog’s food to prevent diarrhea, or just spoon it straight outta the can hobo-style. Sure, fresh pumpkin is great and not that time-consuming to prepare, actually, but there’s nothing wrong with a quality canned item. Luckily, there are a couple BPA-free options out there, and another on the horizon:

Farmer’s Market Foods Organic Canned Pumpkin

Certified BPA-free, decent online reviews, available from Amazon in bulk. I haven’t tried it myself, but it looks pretty good. They also carry canned sweet potato and butternut squash, all BPA-free.

Pacific Natural Pumpkin Puree

I picked up one of these tetra-paks over the holidays. We were making pumpkin custard and I didn’t feel like peeling, cutting, and steaming a whole pumpkin, and I was about to grab the Whole Foods brand of canned pumpkin when I saw this. It’s apparently quite new, so new that it’s not even on the Pacific Natural website. The custard turned out well.

Trader Joe’s Canned Pumpkin

As of 2012, new cans should be BPA-free, but I wouldn’t count on it just yet. To be sure, ask the manager of your local establishment.

Well, those are the big problem areas in the Primal community as I see it: coconut milk, tomatoes, canned seafood, and pumpkin (and other squashes). Heck, you could probably devise a pretty decent diet out of the aforementioned choices. You’d have your saturated fat, omega-3s, protein, sea minerals, soluble fiber, and antioxidant needs covered. It might not be optimal, but I’d argue that such a diet would be superior to most people’s out there.

Before I wrap this up let me say that companies are changing their packaging all the time, so it’s up to you to be diligent about which cans contain BPA and which do not. This article will age and it’s possible that some of the recommendations I’ve made here will no longer be relevant in the future. Hopefully they still help you find what you are looking for, but just remember to check with the supplier before making your purchase.

Anyway, chime in with comments, tips, and links to other BPA-free products. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I believe that S&W organic( I get mine from costco) are BPA free too. Not for sure though. I sure hope so because that’s what I use. I like Native Forest coconut milk and we buy it on amazon all the time!

    stacey wrote on January 12th, 2012
  2. Man, living in Canada, I dont know where to find BPA-free lined anything without paying out the ass for it.

    pat wrote on January 12th, 2012
  3. Just to clarify, the home canning lids shouldn’t really be a problem, right? You are always supposed to leave some headspace in the jar, so no food should be in contact with the lid for extended periods of time during storage. If it is a goopy food, like tomato paste, which might get onto the lid, you can just discard the top half inch and be okay, since the applesauce isn’t really a liquid and the BPA-molecules won’t be traveling freely throughout the jar. So home-canning, if you’re into that, still seems like a smart option.

    Danielle wrote on January 12th, 2012
  4. Mark, you are amazing. When I read the title, I was thinking “The only canned things I eat are pumpkin, coconut milk, tomatoes and sardines.” Exactly what you covered!

    Jasmina wrote on January 12th, 2012
  5. Practically everything I eat lately comes from a can. Salmon, fruit.. and yeah that’s practically everything I eat lately, with a few additions like chopped onion and garlic and spice in the salmon and Salvation Army soup. Beggars can’t be choosers.
    I’m careful with my canned food though to try not to get any extra can lining in it. If there’s salmon stuck to the inside of the can I use my fingers to get it out to avoid scratching the lining off.
    I do worry a bit about BPA but I try to eat and drink things that cleanse the system (pineapple, herbal tea) and keep my testosterone raised. Cocoa apparently does this. Garlic does. I think red ginseng might help. I drink the extract sometimes and an instant tea version. Working out regularly helps and I just recently got a girlfriend, that’s probably a nice hack too.

    Animanarchy wrote on January 12th, 2012
  6. Great post! Does anyone know why there are no trader joes in Colorado? Moved here not too long ago and sure miss the TJ’s.

    Dawn wrote on January 12th, 2012
  7. Good timing with this topic!!! I eat pretty clean but still worry about things like the frying pans i cook in and BPA and all that. This week i decided to kick my canned tuna addiction. It was getting out of hand and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t doing me any favours. It’s been all fresh this week and I’m loving it!!! QUESTION: Don’t know if anyone has to avoid FODMAPs (fermentable sugars), but is coconut milk considered a ‘safe’ item (ie it doesn’t cause IBS symptoms)????

    Sarah wrote on January 12th, 2012
  8. in the solving one problem but creating another department…

    be very careful w/ the tetra packs, esp. for coconut milk/cream.

    tetra packs usu. require the use of stabalizers…and a frequent choice is gwar gum which is a huge culpret in gut irritation…

    so guess we need to pick our poison…

    bob wrote on January 12th, 2012
  9. There is an organic pumpkin puree in a BPA-free tetra pack made by Fig Foods Co. that my local Whole Foods carries. (I’m in California.)

    Amy wrote on January 12th, 2012
  10. If anybody needs other canned goods not listed above, Eden brand is also BPA-free. For food STORAGE (as in after the meal’s over), Ziplock brand containers are also BPA-free.

    Yes, good old Tupperware and it’s knockoffs are laden with the stuff.

    Wenchypoo wrote on January 13th, 2012
  11. Such useful information! I might need to print this out and take it shopping with me. Thanks for investigating this for us!

    Andrea wrote on January 13th, 2012
  12. Native Forest is AWESOME. Put it in the fridge to get the cream to the top.

    James wrote on January 13th, 2012
  13. Great post! However, I would LOVE to know about BPA in canned beverages. My husband gets free cans of Talking Rain sparkling water at his work and I’m wondering if those have BPA. Also, Zevia brand beverages.

    I know neither of those are probably strict primal, but I’m still curious.

    Thanks!

    Shawna wrote on January 13th, 2012
  14. Is seafood from the Pacific Ocean safe to eat? I love Wild Planet Foods sardines–they’re the best I’ve ever had–but they’re caught off the West Coast of North America.

    Tim wrote on January 13th, 2012
  15. Thanks for this comprehensive list! Unfortunately, it’s still difficult to find these items locally where I live. No TJ, Whole Foods, or Costco here. I do most of my shopping at the farmers market, and go for fresh over packaged, but still need to frequent the grocery store for a few items. Will keep this list in mind as, hopefully, more things become available.

    Chandra wrote on January 13th, 2012
  16. For those concerned with canning jar lids, I agree with the assumption that headspace should protect the contents. However, if you would like an alternative you can purchase German-made Weck canning jars (http://www.weckcanning.com/). They have glass lids and seal by way of a rubber gasket (you use clips to hold the lid on while processing).

    Also glad that it was mentioned that BPA-free does NOT equal “safe”. Plastic is a problematic material. Whenever possible I use glass as an alternative, stainless steel, cast iron… plastic lids are understandable if they are not in constant contact with your food (and sometimes necessary – if brewing kombucha, for example) but otherwise… no thanks.

    applecore wrote on January 13th, 2012
  17. There goes Mark again, reading my mind. I was just looking into this. I, too, have concerns about linings in Tetra-paks as well as other bisphenol-like substances. Apparently, there is another form of it that may be just as bad or worse.

    Also, can someone please riddle me this: what did food producers use before the advent of plastic linings? I grew up in the 70’s and don’t recall fear of unlined cans being a huge concern. Why do cans have to be lined at all?

    Tina wrote on January 13th, 2012
  18. So what’s the word on those plastic freezer bags and containers? I don’t can stuff, I freeze it. But I have been wondering how safe my containers are.

    Helen wrote on January 14th, 2012
  19. Powdered coconut cream in a plastic bag. Done :D

    Tomatoes are trickier here in Tokyo, though…

    TokyoJarrett wrote on January 14th, 2012
  20. Just make your own coconut milk – it tastes so much better. Just get coconut flakes (I get mine from tropical traditions because there is no ick like propelyne gycol in it just dried coconut.

    1 cup coconut
    1 cup hot water

    Let soak in blender for 15 minutes or so.
    Blend, blend – strain, squeeze the milk out of the ground up coconut. Mmmm drink the milk, dry the shredded coconut to use in a recipe.

    Simple.

    MamaB wrote on January 16th, 2012
  21. Eden Foods, a family-owned company in Clinton, Michigan, has tomatoes in amber (brown) glass jars. They have a lot of organic foods… Their organic beans have been in BPA-free cans for a few years. Good quality, no affiliation.

    I love their crushed tomatoes for pizza sauce & spaghetti.

    LynnH wrote on January 18th, 2012
  22. Canned pumpkin???!!!! How weird is that. In australia I doubt there is any such thing, you buy a whole one or a large piece off the shelf. If things are made overly convenient people will buy them no doubt, or is it a weather issue?
    Stranger than fiction.

    sue jobson wrote on January 19th, 2012
  23. HEY! Found a neat study for Canadians to read :)

    A listing from our government site on levels of BPA in brand name foods!

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/pubs/securit/bpa_survey-enquete-can-con-eng.php

    pat wrote on January 20th, 2012
  24. It looks to me like No Name brand and Unico brand tomato paste has the lowest levels of BPA…

    pat wrote on January 20th, 2012
  25. The middle of winter is the worst time to hear about BPA in can liners. There are options, but my best is to shrug and remember that something already has wrecked my reproductive organs. I can save up to buy enough bushels to last a year when they are in season.

    Kelekona wrote on January 22nd, 2012
  26. I’m saving this! I will have to peruse your blog. I get lots of canned beans from Trader Joe’s and am hoping they are BPA free. The easiest alternative for me would be cooking and freezing beans myself.

    Splendid Little Stars wrote on February 4th, 2012
  27. I love the site, but unless you are absolutely sure the cans are bpa free I wish you would not post it! The info needs to come from the manufacturing side not the store personel.

    Julie wrote on February 9th, 2012
  28. Crown Prince also makes BPA-free canned tuna.

    Charla wrote on February 16th, 2012
  29. I have low grade prostate cancer and have been told to eat as many tomatoes any way I can. Now I read the other day there are 5 things you should not eat if you have prostate cancer and one is canned tomato products. These tomato product companies need to fix this BPA problem now!

    Mark wrote on February 27th, 2012
  30. Dear Mark,

    I am online marketing director for Vital Choice Wild Seafood & Organics.

    I’d like to make two points:

    1) We did not issue a “mild apologia” for BPA … we simply reported the latest news (at the time of the article) about its endocrine effects.

    2) It makes no sense to tell people to avoid canned Vital Choice Albcore Tuna, unless you are going to tell people to avoid ALL foods in cans certified to be BPA-free.
    (BTW, all major national tuna brands openly use cans lined with BPA-infused resins.)

    Vital Choice has written certifications from the suppliers of all of our seafood cans (except for Dungeness Crab) that the cans are BPA-free … and we remain committed to trying to use only BPA-free cans.

    And as you say on this very page, another U.S. brand that claims their tuna cans are BPA-free (Wild Planet) admits that, as happened with our tuna, their tuna showed traces of BPA when tested.

    This suggests that any other companies who believe they are using BPA-free cans (e.g., Wild Planet, Trader Joe’s, Oregon’s Choice Seafood) are just as likely to show traces of BPA in their tuna (and other canned fish), possibly due to the ubiquity of BPA in the environment.

    In fact, you posted these two entries above:
    “Mark’s Daily Apple reader Chris emailed Wild Planet to double check my personal experience as noted above and this is what they had to say:
    Hello Chris,
    Our tuna products were marked BPA-free based on the manufacturer’s certification that the can linings were formulated without BPA. Upon independent testing of these cans we found that while the level is very low there is some content of BPA in the product.”

    And as you say about another brand:

    “Oregon’s Choice Seafood
    A small outfit out of (you guessed it) Oregon, Oregon’s Choice uses only BPA-free cans to store the tuna they obtain from trusted fishermen. Pretty pricey, but it seems to be of the utmost quality. Sadly, they don’t claim that any of their other products are BPA-free, which almost certainly means they are not.”

    Please be fair and even handed!

    Craig Weatherby wrote on April 2nd, 2012
  31. As of June 2012, all domestic sardine production will be converted to BPA free cans…not by legal issues, simply by consumer demand.

    Concerned Chemist wrote on April 11th, 2012
  32. Also of note, all domestic produced tuna products (BB, COSI and SK) have been in BPA “free” cans for the last 2 years. Only imported products still contain epoxy lined cans. They simply don’t announce it as the inventory mix would make branding very difficult.

    Concerned Chemist wrote on April 11th, 2012
  33. Re: pumpkin, I’ve used Farmer’s Market Organic Pumpkin and it’s great!
    Thanks for the very useful list of BPA free products.

    JeanMDhealth wrote on April 11th, 2012
  34. I just confirmed with Amy’s Organics consumer relations department that as of March 2012, their canned soups will be BPA free. They have been transitioning to BPA free for the last year, with the lentil soups and tomato products, the BPA free cans will have an NB on the bottom of the can with the date etc. Good news, since Costco sells a great pack of lentil and minestrone soups.

    Alison wrote on April 19th, 2012
  35. Eden Foods has a few BPA free canned goods – I usually buy the canned chickpeas or other beans. They are available in Whole Foods and local co-ops.

    Veena wrote on May 1st, 2012
  36. Can you do a post about BPA-free canning lid options for us home canners out there! This would be so wonderful, THANK YOU

    Nicole Warren wrote on May 1st, 2012
  37. Tomatoes in glass are always the best way to go – http://shoporganic.com has Bionaturae as well as Eden tomato products in (amber) glass. You can also find most of the other items in this list there, coconut milk, pumpkin, tuna and more.

    Cara wrote on May 1st, 2012
  38. Eden Organics has a wide line of products and I know their tomato products are not lined with BPA. You can order them in bulk from Amazon and get a good discount if you do the Subscribe and Save option. I am pretty sure all of their products including beans etc. are BPA free- they tout it on the products that I have bought. That being said, I have committed to using only what I have to that is canned- I have very few canned products in my pantry now. I do all of my own pumpkin, as much tomato canning as I can in the summer, and I cook and freeze all of my beans myself. I also opt for glass jarred foods when I have to buy them. Those items are pricey so I stock up when on sale.
    THANK YOU FOR THE LIST- I GREATLY APPRECIATE THE INFORMATION!

    christie wrote on May 1st, 2012
  39. I buy frozen coconut milk from an asian grocery store. It is, of course, packaged in plastic, but it is a #2 plastic. It is the sealing type plastics that scare me more. Mercury-free dental fillings, for instance, have BPA in them. What a great choice we have there! I also like that the milk has only one ingredient, coconut milk. No stabilizers, emulsifiers, etc. I just break the solid block into chunks for portions. I don’t much like the tetrapak-type products, since they are not recyclable in my area.

    winter wrote on June 11th, 2012
  40. Eden Organics cans are all BPA free as well

    Lynae wrote on August 21st, 2012

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