BPA: What’s all the flap?

Posted Feb. 26, 2011, at 11:18 a.m.
Last modified Feb. 28, 2011, at 12:51 p.m.
Most canned foods contain the chemical BPA, which is used as a liner to help protect the contents from spoiling. BPA also is added to many plastic products, including baby bottles and sippy cups.
Most canned foods contain the chemical BPA, which is used as a liner to help protect the contents from spoiling. BPA also is added to many plastic products, including baby bottles and sippy cups.

Bisphenol A, better knows as BPA, has received considerable attention in the media in recent years and in Maine in the past week.  You may be thinking this really doesn’t have a lot to do with you, or with nutrition.  Well, if you heat anything in the microwave, or use any food or beverage products that come in cans or reusable plastic containers, then BPA impacts your life.  Worldwide, more than six billion pounds of BPA are manufactured every year.  BPA is in the bloodstream of nearly every person in the United States.

BPA is an industrial chemical found in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. It has been used in packaging materials for over 40 years. Polycarbonate plastics, which carry the No. 7 recycling symbol, are often used in containers that store food and beverages such as water bottles and baby bottles.  When used in bottles, BPA can increase their heat resistance and durability.  Epoxy resins are often used to coat the inside of metal products such as food cans to prevent corrosion, but small amounts of BPA can leach out when the plastic or can lining comes in contact with food or water.   The way that food is packaged is paramount to protecting it from pathogens and other contaminants.

The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for regulating the use of BPA.    The FDA has warned Americans to limit BPA consumption; however, BPA is normally not labeled on products.  Further, the FDA has announced that while BPA is considered safe, it now has “some concern” about the potential effects of the chemical, especially on the “brain behavior and prostate glands in fetuses, infants and young children.”  The American Chemistry Council, a product advocacy group that represents plastic manufactures, says BPA is safe and poses no risk to human health.

What worries scientists is that BPA is an estrogen “mimic.”  It activates the same receptors in the body that estrogen does. One government-funded study linked the endocrine-disrupting chemical to increased rates of breast and prostate cancer and reproductive problems. A second panel found fault with the first, though both expressed concerns about the impact of BPA on behavior in animal studies and what that might mean for children.

You can take the following steps to reduce your exposure and that of your family members to BPA

  • Discard worn or scratched plastic baby bottles, cups or food container
  • Don’t put very hot liquid into products that contain BPA
  • Use infant formula bottles made of glass or BPA-free plastic.  BornFree is one of many companies that make them.  Minnesota and Canada have banned BPA from baby bottles and baby food containers.
  • Avoid plastic containers made of polycarbonate – such products will have the No. 7 on the bottom.
  • Prepare and store foods in glass, porcelain or stainless steel dishes or containers.
  • If you have polycarbonate plastic food containers, don’t use them in the microwave or dishwasher. Heat and detergent can break down the plastic, releasing BPA.
  • When possible use foods that are fresh, frozen, or packed in aseptic boxes instead of canned foods. One manufacturer, Eden Foods, does line its cans with a BPA alternative. Heinz says it has switched to BPA-free cans for some products but will not identify them or say what substitute it is using.
  • A good alternative to polycarbonate is polyethylene terephthalate (PETE) which has the recycling No.1 on the bottom.
  • Buy tuna or salmon in pouches.  You’ll be BPA-free and have less water to drain.

To play it safe, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, infants, young children, and adolescents, should try to avoid BPA.

Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian who lives in Athens, Maine. Read more of her columns and post questions at www.bangordailynews.com or e-mail her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.

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