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12 Jan

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

iStock 000000300520XSmallBy 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. For all you “canners” out there, the best option out there for lids on traditional Ball, Kerr, GH and Bernardin mason jars are the Italian lids made by Bormioli Rocco called Quattro Staggoni. You can order them on Amazon or directly from Golda’s Kitchen. The lids are lined with a glass ceramic so no BPA and acid proof. Golden Harvest lids are not bad as they are unlined, but not good for acids. Tattler lids are Bpa free but still plastic so who knows.

    KEVIN wrote on September 13th, 2012
  2. This is the very reason why I am not a fan of canned food! As much as possible I cook food at the house… well since I have my own business I have plenty of time.

    Plato wrote on September 26th, 2012
  3. All canned salmon products by the seafood PROCESSOR Trident are bpa free. Trident provides the canned salmon for Trader Joes, Costco (the kirkland brand), Royal Red and Royal Pink Salmon and a few others and all are basically the same product with different labels, prices and amounts of skin and bones (Kirkland Salmon is skinless and boneless, Royal Salmon is not). Also some VERY expensive glass canned seafood producers are Tonnino, Chinook and Company, Captian Jack’s Gourmet Alaskan Seafood and Ortiz.

    BAD wrote on October 4th, 2012
  4. it is so easy to avoid bpa. just do not eat or drink products using them.. also use the canning lids that are bpa free. making your own coconut milk is quite easy. i personally have never had coconut milk from a container from a store. i moved to key west when i was a teenager and we had coconuts in our yard-as do many people there. it only took me asking a neighbor how to make milk and i was off making my own. while i live in carmel-by-the-sea now, and have to have coconuts sent from home(key west) , i still prefer real fresh coconut milk and oil and meat to anything purchased at a store.

    dana pallessen wrote on November 2nd, 2012
  5. NATIVE FOREST COCONUT MILK IS NOT BPA FREE. i JUST CALLED AND SPOKE TO A REP. She says they are low levels bpa and the FDA cannot allow them to label them as such. I called because there was no information on the can or website making claims of being bpa free. I trust it’s still better than other brands, seeing as I don’t trust the FDA. They still allow saccharin on the shelves for @%#^&%$sake

    claudia wrote on January 8th, 2013
  6. I think I’m just going to line any of my food containers with unbleached organic parchment paper. That way no food ever touches any kind of plasricl

    barb wrote on August 31st, 2013
  7. If something is listed as BPA-free, do NOT jump on that bandwagon, PLEASE!

    If it’s a can or a tetrapack, it’s just going to be lined with another plastic of some sort, like, BP, which is even more volatile and dangerous than BPA. Glass is the best we can do, imho.

    jenny rothkopf wrote on November 19th, 2013
  8. Hi, Mark. It’s great to know that more and more companies are moving to BPA-free cans. When I wrote about the subject a few years ago http://hoechstetterinteriors.wordpress.com/2009/11/13/bpa-in-canned-foods-and-kitchen-design/, only Eden Foods had made that move – and *all* of their canned products come in BPA-free cans.

    Unfortunately, testing that was done at the time showed that even in BPA-free cans, there were still still traces of BPA found in the food, indicating that it is almost undoubtedly in our actual food supply. Which, of course, is all the more reason to avoid the additional exposure in the cans themselves.

    Wendy Hoechstetter wrote on January 6th, 2014
  9. What about BPS? I don’t care for the BPA-free label for years now. What assures me it doesn’t have any other toxic chemicals? The industry very often replace one chemical by another chemical…

    I recently learned that veggies are cooked in the cans too. And I thought it was only exposed to BPA in the storing time. Now they heat the BPA too, wow…

    Coco wrote on February 5th, 2014

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