The following is an excerpt from my book, The Non-Toxic Avenger: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You, due out Fall 2011 from New Society Publishers.
Getting faked out
A while back my husband and I stopped purchasing our favorite organic canned tomato products because of the issue with the BPA lining in cans. Finding an alternative lining for highly acidic foods, like tomatoes, is an issue for manufacturers and for the most part your choices are glass jars or the aseptic packages (those cardboard boxes that look like juice boxes). I could only find tomato paste in glass jars, so if I needed diced or whole canned tomatoes, I had to opt for the one product available in aseptic cardboard, which was Pomi.
Pomi, unfortunately, wasn’t certified organic, but it was an import from Italy where they use a lot less pesticides to begin with and their parent company was a certified producer of organic foods in Italy. It was a trade-off for us as the Pomi products didn’t taste as good as the organic brand we used to use and really liked, Muir Glen.
I had seen news reports saying that Muir Glen (a General Mills brand) was in the process of reformulating their cans and that, starting with the 2010 tomato crop, their tomato products would be canned without the use of BPA. This was great news, particularly in light of the fact that our annual pledge to u-pick tomatoes and can them ourselves in glass never seems to come to fruition here in Seattle where the tomato crop can be heinously paltry. Growing our own tomatoes for this purpose every year turns out to be an enormous lesson in frustration. The microclimate in our yard, just off of Puget Sound, tends to remain cool for most of the day even in the summer and we are generally left with green tomatoes with just a few ripening each year.
However, in early December, my husband popped into the grocery store on the way home from our annual family visit to see the Gingerbread Village at the Sheraton in downtown Seattle. Hank went in to pick up some items for making manicotti and, while he was reaching for the Pomi boxes, he noticed that the Muir Glen cans advertised the fact that they were made with “enamel lined cans”. He was excited when he got out to the car as he was thinking that these were the new BPA-free cans. He was so convinced about this labeling that he almost bought Muir Glen instead. But, he knew better. I immediately went home to do some research and find out if, indeed, this was the case.
It wasn’t. Those cans still had BPA in them and, as far as I was concerned, this was extremely misleading advertising on their part. Why mention the lining of your cans unless it was something significant? Most people don’t care whether or not their cans are lined with white enamel. Many people, on the other hand, are concerned whether or not their cans are lined with BPA. In looking around for current information on the cans, I saw that the Safe Mama website had followed up with Muir Glen about a month before this incident and had managed to nail down the gory details.
In summary, the fact was that they did not have BPA-free tomato products in cans yet on the shelves and that they wouldn’t until sometime in 2011. Once they knew the date of production, the cans packaged after that production date could be considered to be BPA-free. Oddly enough, the customer service rep asked the writer from the Safe Mama whether or not she would like the cans labeled as BPA-free. Hopefully, with enough customer feedback, Muir Glen will know to label their cans with actual useful information. Until they start labeling the cans as BPA-free, it will still be a crap shoot which ones have BPA and which don’t. Even looking at the expiration date (a later date is more likely to not have BPA in them) doesn’t guarantee anything.
Do you worry about BPA in the lining of your cans or do you never buy canned tomatoes? If you can find them, Eden Organics just started selling their tomato products in amber glass jars from Ball. I have yet to see them in stores.