Should You Stop Eating Canned Tomatoes?
Combine a naturally acidic food with BPA in the lining of the can, and the results could spell trouble
Tomatoes are a staple of so many great recipes. The fresh versions are wonderful, but often recipes call for canned. Canned tomatoes have far more flavor than "ripe" tomatoes out of season, and they tend to be cheaper, too. But the convenience and cost savings may come with a price.
The lining of many cans contain bisphenol-A or BPA. It’s there to act as a barrier between the food and the metal surface of the can to prevent the can from corroding and keep the metal from migrating into the food. But experts know that some of the BPA itself migrates into the food. Some people cite canned tomatoes as a special concern, claiming the high acidity of tomatoes may have a greater effect on the can lining.
BPA (also found in many plastic products) is thought to act like estrogen in the body and has been linked with a number of health problems. Some animal studies suggest it increases the risk for reproductive problems, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Studies in humans have also found potential hazards. One study found an increase in behavior problems in school-age boys exposed to BPA during their mother's pregnancy. Another study found an increase in asthma in some children with high levels of BPA in their urine.
Here’s what you need to know before you buy your next can of tomatoes.
What the FDA says
In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviewed the research on BPA and issued a draft report. The report said the BPA in food contact material, such as can linings, is safe for people.
But later that year, an FDA subcommittee challenged that conclusion, questioning whether the FDA experts had reviewed all the most current scientific evidence. In response, the FDA gathered its top experts and conducted a four-year review, looking at more than 300 studies. The studies were all recent, published or available from 2009 to 2013. In the fall of 2014, the FDA concluded there was no cause to revise its previous conclusion.
The bottom line, at least for now: The FDA says very low levels of exposure to BPA through diet, including canned goods, are not unsafe. The agency is continuing to look at the issue.
Other scientists are studying it, too. Recently, Italian researchers tested various canned tomato-based products, looking for migration of BPA into the food. The cans that had been dented or heated had more migration of BPA, they found, yet none had migration levels higher than the European Union's safe limit. The researchers tested six different brands and didn't find any substantial differences in migration, which was minimal.
If you decide you want to avoid tomatoes packed in cans that contain BPA, you have several alternatives (besides switching to with fresh tomatoes).
- BPA-free cans. Some food makers have switched to liners that are BPA-free. Among them: Bionaturae and General Mill's Muir Glen. However, according to a study published in Environmental Health in 2014, the non-BPA liners may leach other potentially hazardous, estrogen-mimicking chemicals. The jury's out on these alternatives.
- Tetra Paks. A carton-type packaging called Tetra Pak has no BPA. It is currently used by Pomi tomatoes.
- Tomatoes in glass jars. You may have to shop around to find them.