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Industry backs bisphenol A safety in can linings

By Rory Harrington, 04-Nov-2009

Related topics: Quality, Safety, Hygiene, Packaging Technology, Safety & Regulation, BPA & food contact materials

The use of bisphenol A (BPA) in can linings is both safe and vital for food protection, a host of industry bodies and companies have said in rejecting the conclusions of a report calling for a ban on the chemical.

The North American Metal Packaging Alliance (NAMPA), the American Chemistry Council (ACC), as well as food giants such as Del Monte, Campbell and General Mills have dismissed a study by the US-based Consumer Union that claimed potentially hazardous levels of BPA were leaching into foods from the epoxy linings of cans.

Regulatory approval

All the groups and firms, including Del Monte Foods, emphasised that BPA has been confirmed as safe for use in food contact materials by the world’s major regulatory agencies – the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) among them. Both EFSA and the UK Food Standards Agency told FoodProductionDaily.com in June 2009 there were no plans to re-examine their position on BPA.

Nonetheless, the metal packing industry currently is looking for alternatives to BPA – although these are still some years from coming to market, said Campbell.

Food safety

Industry opinion was also united in stressing that all food contact materials, including epoxy can linings, met current rules as laid down by the FDA. They also said that use of BPA-based linings actually enhanced food safety and extended product shelf life.

"BPA-based epoxy coatings in metal packaging provide real, important and measurable health benefits by reducing the potential for the serious and often deadly effects from food-borne illnesses,” said NAMPA chairman Dr John Rost.

He added: “This packaging enables the high temperature sterilisation of food products when initially packaged and continuously protect against microbial contaminants. According to FDA records, there has not been an incidence of food-borne illness resulting from a failure of metal packaging in the U.S. in more than 30 years."

Study findings

The Consumer Union published its report after tests on 19 canned foods - including soups, juice, tuna, and green beans – found almost all contained “measurable levels of BPA”. The levels of chemical detected ranged from 0.3 parts per billion (ppb) to 191ppb. This highest level was detected in canned Del Monte Fresh Cut Green Beans Blue Lake with the lowest finding for this product less than a fifth of that at 35.9 ppb. Progresso Vegetable Soup, made by General Mills, showed a BPA level ranging from 67 to 134 ppb, while Campbell’s Condensed Chicken Noodle Soup had BPA levels between 54.5- 102 ppb, said the study.

A spokesman from General Mills said the BPA levels of up to 134ppb reportedly found in its Progresso Soup were not consistent with the company’s own findings.

However, even if that level was present, it would still be substantially below the advisory level of 600 parts per billion established by the European Union as a level of safe consumption for all ages – and below current U.S. guidelines that establish the daily upper limit of safe exposure as 50 micrograms per kilogram of body weight,” he added. “A level of 60 or 90 parts per billion, if present in a product, is and would be safe.”

BPA alternatives

While the CU said its findings were “noteworthy”, bodies including NAMPA rejected this conclusion.

“The values seen in the study - measured in parts per billion - were below the lowest regulatory threshold of concern set by government scientists and do not pose a health risk to consumers of all ages,’ said the trade association.

Campbell re-iterated many of the above points. It added that it had been at the forefront of research over the last three years to find alternatives to BPA.

“While we continue to seek alternatives to BPA-based coatings, to date no satisfactory alternative has been identified for a broad range of products”, a company spokesman told FoodProductionDaily.com. “Any prospective new coating will take between two and three years to qualify, due to the shelf life of the food products these coatings interact with and protect.”