The US Food and Drug Administration banned the use of BPA (bisphenol A) from baby bottles and sippy cups in 2012, over concerns about hormonal disruption and other problems. Troublingly, the chemical is still present in many other items, including receipt paper, water bottles, and canned goods in the US. What’s more, some of the alternatives to BPA are also now raising concerns. We take a look at the best BPA-free canned goods and ask why you should avoid BPA alternatives.
Several companies now offer canned goods that claim to be BPA-free, but these are our top picks based on when they started caring about BPA, brand transparency, and overall sustainability. We’ve also included some super popular brands that are less than stellar when it comes to BPA and other policies, just so you’re aware when browsing store shelves.
Amy’s was one of the first brands to take BPA concerns seriously. The company quickly moved away from BPA linings and now offers tin-plated cans with a non-BPA lining made of acrylic for the can body and polyester for the can lid. These linings are made in the US and are approved by the FDA for direct food contact (though, frankly, so is BPA).
While not as good as buying ‘canned’ goods in glass, Amy’s arguably offers the best BPA-free canned goods around. And I love that the company is transparent about the lining they’ve chosen and that these cans do not contain BPA alternatives such as Bisphenol S (BPS), Bisphenol F (BPF), Bisphenol A Diglycidyl Ether (BADGE), Novolac Glycidyl Ether (NOGE), Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT), or phthalates. The current can linings do not have synthetic estrogen as an ingredient.
All of Wild Planet’s canned products are packaged without intentionally added BPA. The process of transitioning to the BPA-NI cans began in 2012, when the company received certification from its manufacturers stating that the can linings were BPA-free. They added this to the can labels and shortly thereafter sent the cans for third party testing.
The tests revealed that while there was no BPA used in the linings, BPA was present in trace amounts, meaning that Wild Planet felt uncomfortable making the claim: “BPA-free.” The company chose to switch to a statement saying, “No BPA used in can lining,” but subsequent to the passing of California Prop 65 and its provisions on BPA (which provides no “safe harbor” level for oral exposure), the company removed the statement.
Confusing as this may be, especially if you see the brand’s products beside others that still loudly proclaim ‘BPA-free’, the fact remains that Wild Planet does not use BPA in the linings of their canned goods. Instead, a Wild Planet representative told me that the company uses cans with liners made of a vinyl organosol blend and not BPA alternatives like BPS, BPA-F, or BADGE.
The company also sources its seafood sustainably, including details of harvesting practices and locations. Wild Planet is not MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certified, but that’s because the company believes the MSC certification is not as robust as it once was and does not offer the same degree of sustainability as already practiced at the company.
Wild Planet offers most of its products in recyclable cans, but some products are packaged in plastic pouches. These are not currently recyclable but the company is currently developing a new format of recyclable, single-serving packaging. The company’s ready-to-eat tuna bowls are fully recyclable.
Muir Glen are tomato specialists, but while other brands still cling to their BPA linings for these acidic foodstuffs, this company has gone entirely BPA-free. In addition to offering tomatoes in glass jars, Muir Glen uses food-grade/food-safe vinyl liners in the cans, meaning the coating is inert and no leaching or corrosion occurs.
Muir Glen also exclusively uses Certified Non-GMO, USDA Organic tomatoes grown and canned in California. These tomatoes are field-grown and vine-ripened and, I have to say, absolutely delicious! Thei company’s fire-roasted tomatoes are excellent!
In addition to their organic commitment, Muir Glen has partnered with the Xerces Society to plant pollinator habitats on the California farms that grow the company’s tomatoes. Muir Glen also strives for long-term partnerships with farmers, encouraging better working conditions, practices, and financial sustainability.
Edward & Sons requests that the company’s products are packed using cans without detectable levels of BPA and offers a second level of assurance by performing independent tests of these BPA-free cans. The company has been doing this since 2011, with a licensed, domestic third-party laboratory testing for BPA using a High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) method.
The company recognizes that BPA is present in the environment and that this means it may be disingenuous to claim that a product is BPA-free, even if no BPA is intentionally used in the cans. As such, the company doesn’t outright claim that cans are BPA-free. I reached out to ask the company for more information and a spokesperson confirmed that “all our canned products are deemed non-intent in the case of bisphenol compounds,” including BPS, BPAF, or BADGE. Furthermore, “Depending on the type of food being canned a polyester or epoxy resin will be used to the line the tin can.”
On the whole, Edward & Sons is a longstanding reputable company with some pretty sustainable practices. These include embracing fair trade, plant-based diets, and integrated pest management while promoting organic certification at their partner farms worldwide.
Some Edward & Sons brand names to keep an eye out for include: Edward & Sons, Native Forest, Let’s Do Organic, Let’s Do Gluten Free, The Wizard’s, Premier Japan, More Than Fair, Road’s End Organics, Nature Factor, and Ecuadora.
Eden Foods was another early adapter following concerning reports about BPA in the 1990s. Though I’m not a fan of the company’s politics on reproductive rights, it is impressive that from 1997 onwards, Eden Foods has been working to replace all BPA-lined cans with safer alternatives. This involved significant and arduous negotiation with packaging manufacturers unwilling to divulge proprietary information about their use of BPA or to switch away from it.
Eventually, however, Eden Foods’ persistence paid off and one manufacturer noted that prior to BPA, cans were lined with a vegetable resin enamel. So, despite the dramatically higher cost of such a process, in 1999, the company switched its bean products to a custom-made can lined with a 1960’s vintage oleoresin c-enamel that did not contain BPA. Oleoresin is a mixture of oil and plant resin extracted from pine or balsam fir trees.
In 2017, the company switched all products to cans with a lining safe for both low acid and high acid foods, meaning that even tomato-based products are now in non-BPA cans. Eden Foods also started to label its canned beans, rice and beans, refried beans, chili, and tomatoes as BPA, BPS, and phthalate-free. Unfortunately, the company doesn’t state what this lining is made from, so I reached out to ask and am awaiting a response.
Nowadays, Eden Foods offers products in these much-improved cans and continues to offer some products packed in Tetrapaks and glass jars. The lids for the jars do have a coating made with BPA, but this is covered with a second coating without BPA that creates an effective barrier between the BPA and contact with food.
Crown Prince specializes in seafood, offering canned tuna, salmon, sardines, and other goods. The company used to have a list of BPA-free cans on their website but with Prop 65’s zero-tolerance for BPA going into effect, the company removed this and now simply states that “Some product packaging distributed by Crown Prince may have traces of BPA, although most of our products are packaged in cans that no longer use BPA in the can lining.” I’ve written to the company to ask for an updated list and more information on their current can linings.
Crown Prince has been highly engaged in sustainability efforts for more than a decade. It established a Green Team back in 2010 to “identify and implement specific projects and goals to help the company manage and reduce its environmental impact.” This included tracking and managing greenhouse gas emissions, waste, and recycling. After establishing baseline emissions in 2012, the company set a public target to reduce emissions from market-based electricity usage by 75% through 2020. In 2019, Crown Prince met that goal early, achieving a 78.7% reduction.
Crown Prince also measures Scope 3 emissions, going beyond typical tracking to include business travel, employee commuting, shipping and more. The company also purchases verified offsets to further reduce its environmental impact.
Trader Joe’s offers a decent level of transparency on their non-BPA canned goods and bottles. Naturally, it would be great if the company had a blanket policy where no products were packaged with BPA, but this is a good start.
The non-BPA packages, as currently stated on the Trader Joe’s website, are:
- ALL Tetra-Pak® Cartons
- ALL Plastic Bottles, Tubs & Containers
- ALL Canned Coconut Milk & Coconut Cream
- ALL Pet Food
- ALL Canned Beans, Fruits & Vegetables
- MOST Canned Fish & Chicken
- Organic Vegetarian Chili
- Canned Dolmas – Regular & Quinoa
- Canned Grecian Style Eggplant with Tomatoes & Onions
- Canned Giant Baked Beans in Tomato Sauce
- Canned Greek Chickpeas with Parsley & Cumin.
The ones to avoid, i.e., packages with BPA, are the Trader Joe’s Canned Soups & Stews (EXCEPT: Organic Vegetarian Chili).
The company also notes that while the metal lids of glass jars contain BPA, this doesn’t come into contact with food as there is an extra layer on top of that coating that means no BPA leaches from the lids.
I’ve asked Trader Joe’s for more information on the BPA alternatives used in the company’s linings and will update here if/when I get a response.
Whole Foods is, obviously, a super popular place to shop but the company, rather surprisingly, has a rather weak policy on BPA. In fact, there’s not really a policy at all. Instead, I got a statement from Whole Foods saying:
“The FDA-approved alternatives to BPA-epoxy lining include vinyl, acrylic, polyester, and oleoresin. Most of our 365 Everyday Value® brand products that previously may have had BPA-epoxy lining have been transitioned to packaging that contains these FDA-approved alternatives, and we are continuing to work towards transitioning the remainder. We also offer many products in inherently BPA-free types of packaging, such as aseptic cartons and glass jars.”
So, if you’re buying the 365 brand at Whole Foods, be aware that there may well be BPA in the linings. Look for those aforementioned products that are inherently BPA-free while shopping the 365 brand at Whole Foods.
The trouble with BPA
In contrast to the US, other countries, including China and especially in Europe, limit BPA’s contact with food. Many companies have also heeded consumer concerns and removed BPA from cans and other products sold in the US. The FDA maintains that BPA is safe at low levels, but numerous studies suggest that BPA can contribute to a variety of health issues.
BPA is a chemical that stiffens plastic and is used in a variety of products including: sports equipment, medical and dental devices, CDs and DVDs, household electronics, the lining of water pipes, water bottles, and even eyeglasses.
Notoriously, BPA is also used to coat the insides of food containers to prevent corrosion. Unfortunately, this chemical can leach into foods and liquids, with leaching increasingly likely with heat and acidity. Plastic water bottles that contained BPA were shown to leach approximately 1 to 4 parts per billion (ppb) of BPA and other organic compounds when exposed to water and 121˚C for 2 hours in an autoclave.
Even aside from potential effects on us humans, BPA has detrimental effects on aquatic organisms and other wildlife. This is because the chemical gets into waterways through waste effluent from manufacturing facilities and as BPA leaches from landfill waste.
Why you should avoid BPA alternatives
If you see a product with a honking great ‘BPA-Free!’ label on the front, you might think this means it’s perfectly safe. Alas, many companies simply replaced BPA with similar chemicals that haven’t yet been assessed for safety. Instead of taking the precaution of outright banning these BPA alternatives, the FDA allows the chemicals to be used – falling foul of the fallacy that the absence of evidence of harm is evidence of the absence of harm.
Other BPA alternatives include Bisphenol F (BPF) and Bisphenol A Diglycidyl Ether (BADGE).
Is there BPA in recycled plastics?
Given the rise in products made with recycled materials, you may be curious if there is BPA in recycled plastics. This question has certainly troubled me, especially as I wouldn’t want to inadvertently increase BPA exposure by buying seemingly eco-friendlier products.
The answer to this question is, as you might expect, rather complicated. The short answer is that most plastic is recycled using mechanical processes that shred polycarbonate into fine granules that are then reused to make new plastic. If the polycarbonate did contain BPA (or BPS or alternatives), the chemical(s) would also be present n the resulting recycled plastic.
There are other ways to recycle plastic though, including chemical recycling or depolymerization. In this case, the BPA and other chemicals are separated out, meaning that phthalates and BPA would not be present in any new polycarbonate resin made from the recycled materials.
The trouble, of course, is that most companies have no idea how the recycled plastic they use to make their eco-friendlier products is actually recycled. So, as a precaution, it may be best to avoid buying products made with recycled plastics for sensitive items like baby bottles, sippy cups, and anything that comes into contact with food, liquids, or the body on a regular basis. Instead, natural materials are the better options here.
BPA in beverage cans
While most of the focus around BPA is on water bottles and canned foods, it’s notable that many beverage cans are also lined with BPA. Soft drinks, especially fruit and energy drinks that are acidic, and even beer cans can pose a risk of BPA exposure.
The best way to avoid this route of exposure is to choose beverages packaged in glass or tetrapaks.
Consumer protection against BPA
In the absence of federal legislation on potentially harmful chemicals, several states have enacted policies regulating BPA, phthalates, and flame retardants. You can see these regulations at SaferStates.org. At the time of writing, regulations for BPA include:
Massachusetts – S 1423: Prohibits manufacture, sale, and distribution of thermal paper containing BPA, BPS, or BPAF. Requires the Toxic Use Reduction Institute to identify safer alternatives.
Minnesota – SF 373: Prohibits the manufacture, distribution and use of food packaging containing PFAS chemicals, phthalates, or bisphenols.
New Jersey – A 2064: Prohibits sale, offer for sale, or distribution of infant products containing bisphenol A.
New Jersey – A 2294 / S 1077: Prohibits use of receipt paper containing bisphenol A.
New York – S 417: Prohibits the distribution and use of paper containing bisphenol A for the recording of any business transaction.
Pennsylvania – HB 684: An act providing for bisphenol A-free container products for infants.
Virginia – HB 640: Prohibits the manufacture and sale of any liquid food or beverage container containing BPA.
California – AB 1319: Bans BPA in bottles and sippy cups, requires replacement with least toxic alternative. (Adopted in 2011)
Connecticut – 6572: Bans BPA in reusable food and beverage containers, infant formula or baby food containers (Adopted in 2009)
Connecticut – SB 210: Establishes a first-in-the-nation ban on BPA in thermal receipt paper, and also requires the Chemical Innovations Institute to annually develop a list of chemicals of high toxic concern. (Adopted in 2011)
Delaware – SB 70: Bans baby bottles and sippy cups containing BPA. (Adopted in 2011)
Illinois – SB 2950: Bans children’s food or beverage container that contains bisphenol A (BPA). (Adopted in 2012)
Illinois HB 2076: Prohibits the manufacture, distribution, or use of paper containing bisphenol A for the making of business or banking records (Adopted in 2019)
Maine – Board of Environmental Protection Action: Designates BPA as a priority chemical, requires makers of BPA-containing formula and baby food containers, and children’s toys and products, to report on usage, and plan for its replacement. Bans BPA from reusable food and beverage containers, and formula and baby food packaging. (Adopted in 2013)
Maine – LD 412: Bans BPA in baby bottles, sippy cups and reusable food and beverage containers. (Adopted in 2011)
Maine – LD 902: Designates BPA as a priority chemical. (Adopted in 2013)
Maryland – HB 33 / SB 213: Bans BPA in child care articles, requires replacement with the least toxic alternative. (Adopted in 2010)
Maryland – SB 151: Bans BPA in infant formula cans. (Adopted in 2011)
Minnesota – HF 459 / SF 379: Bans BPA from formula and children’s food containers, specifies it not be replaced with a chemical known or suspected to cause harm. (Adopted in 2013)
Minnesota – SF0247 / HF0326: Bans BPA in sippy cups. (Adopted in 2009)
Nevada – AB 354: Bans BPA from bottles, sippy cups, and formula and kids’ food containers. (Adopted in 2013)
New York S 3296H / A 6919-D: Bans BPA from children’s products, allows for BPA-free products to be labeled as such. (Adopted in 2010)
Vermont – S 247: Bans BPA from formula and baby food jars, as well as all reusable food and beverage containers. (Adopted in 2010)
Washington – SB 6248: Bans BPA from children’s food and beverage containers (other than metal cans) and all reusable water bottles. (Adopted in 2010)
Washington – HB 1194 / SB 5135: Directs the Department of Ecology to identify and take regulatory action on consumer products that are a significant source of chemicals that are a concern for sensitive populations and species. Prioritizes PCBs, PFAS, organohalogen flame retardants, phthalates, and phenolic compounds (BPA, APEs) for initial consideration. (Adopted in 2019)
Wisconsin – S 271: Bans BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups, requires them to be labled BPA-free. (Adopted in 2010)
Demonstrating the power of consumer action, many companies have changed their manufacturing processes to eliminate BPA and alternatives. Others have just eliminated BPA but don’t disclose if they use an alternative. And others still, including Sigg USA, went bankrupt because they failed to disclose the presence of BPA in their water bottles and lost consumer confidence thanks to the lack of transparency.
Because BPA is now widespread in the environment, contaminating water, soil, and air, and because current testing is so sensitive as to be able to detect BPA in parts per billion, any company that claims a can is ‘BPA-free’ is playing fast and loose with the term. Sure, one part per billion (ppb) is pretty much the equivalent of a drop of water in an Olympic size swimming pool, but with no current USA standard or acceptable limit of detection for a BPA-free claim, who knows how much BPA is in any given product packaging and/or the product itself.
The best that companies can do is to declare that cans are BPA-Non-Intent (BPA-NI), meaning that no BPA is intentionally used in product package linings.
When looking for products that are truly BPA-free and free from alternative, unassessed, potentially harmful chemicals, the best policy is to ask companies directly. Instead of relying on labels stating what they don’t use, ask what they do use. And if they fail to disclose, shop elsewhere and let them know that you expect greater transparency before sending any of your hard-earned cash their way.