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Harmful Chemicals Found in Canned Foods

Chemicals in Canned Food

campbells soupLisa Poole, AP

By Katherine Tweed, 2009

Many mothers tossed their baby bottles following reports that the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA), found in certain plastic and food-can liners, can cause a range of health problems. BPA is a known endocrine disrupter, which has been linked in studies with reproductive problems and may even cause certain cancers.

BPA is still widely used in the food manufacturing business, however, and the December 2009 issue of Consumer Reports found that the levels of the chemical vary widely in packaged foods.

Consumer Reports tested 19 name-brand canned foods, including juice, vegetables and soups. BPA showed up in nearly all brands, including organic foods and some labeled "BPA-free."

The report comes as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviews their guidelines for what safe levels are. In 2008, Canada banned BPA in baby bottles over health concerns. Currently, the upper limit of safe exposure set by the FDA is 50 micrograms of BPA per kilogram of body weight per day. However, recent studies in animals have found reproductive problems attributed to BPA at much lower levels.

The highest concentrations were found in Del Monte Fresh Cut Green Beans Blue Lake (35.9 parts per billon (ppb) to 191 ppb), Progresso Vegetable Soup (67 to 134 ppb) and Campbell's Condensed Chicken Soup (54.5 to 102 ppb).

Those levels are still far below the safe exposure levels set by the government. The FDA figures that an exposure of just over 20 ppb translates into 0.185 micrograms for a 132-pound person who eats about 6.5 pounds of food a day.

Industry groups, such as the North American Metal Packaging Alliance, claim that these levels are completely safe, and BPA allows for canned foods to be sterilized at high temperatures. Consumer Union, the non-profit that publishes Consumer Reports, argues that the risk is still great.

"The findings are noteworthy because they indicate the extent of potential exposure," Urvashi Rangan, PhD, director of technical policy at Consumer Union, said in a statement. "Children eating multiple servings per day of canned foods with BPA levels comparable to the ones we found in some tested products could get a dose of BPA near levels that have caused adverse effects in several animal studies. The lack of any safety margin between the levels that cause harm in animals and those that people could potentially ingest from canned foods has been inadequately addressed by the FDA to date."

Consumer Reports' food-safety scientists recommend daily safe exposure levels to be set at 0.0024 micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day. The FDA could have a finalized review of BPA as early as this fall.


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