Food Engineering

BPA in canned foods rears its head as a manufacturing issue

December 1, 2009
A recent story in Consumer Reports

A recent story in Consumer Reports revealed potentially dangerous levels of bisphenol-A (BPA) in canned foods caused by epoxy-based linings. A 2007 study from the Environmental Working (EWG) Group found similar results; the study found unsafe levels of BPA in one of every 10 servings of canned foods and one of every three cans of infant formula. According to an EWG spokesman, the Food and Drug Administration has been dragging its feet for several years in developing new regulations prohibiting the use of BPA in can linings. But finding an effective substitute isn’t easy.

Steven G. Hentges, PhD, of the Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group of the American Chemistry Council argues, “Epoxy resins made from BPA are approved by the US FDA to line food and beverage cans in order to help prevent corrosion, contamination and food spoilage.” John Rost, chairman of the North American Metal Packaging Alliance, adds that there hasn’t been a food-borne illness resulting from a failure of metal packaging in the US for more than 30 years, according to FDA records.

While manufacturers of baby bottles have converted from materials containing BPA to safer materials, the solution is not so easy for can manufacturers. According to Mark Novotny, marketing manager for Nordson Corporation, the interest in non-epoxy powder coatings, which eliminate the use of dangerous solvents, is on the rise as can manufacturers look for non-BPA alternatives. Novotny explained that several can manufacturers and food processors are testing packs with non-BPA powder coatings.

Rost suggests that new non-BPA technologies, which have not performed as well in tests as epoxy resins, will not have the equivalent shelf life and will need time to prove themselves in terms of longevity and food safety.

Michael Potter, president of Eden Foods, found a non-BPA alternative for low-acid canned goods that actually predates epoxy resins-oleo-based C-enamel linings. In 1999, when Potter learned that BPA was a problem, he began investigating other materials and discovered a non-BPA can. He notes, however, that high-acidity foods such as tomato sauce still have to be packaged in epoxy-lined cans or glass.

Potter believes that Eden is the only processor currently using non-BPA cans.