Are Canned Tomatoes Dangerous? The Latest BPA Scare

by | Dec 16, 2009
Photo by TheBittenWord.com

Photo by TheBittenWord.com

Chances are that if you do much cooking, especially during the winter, you rely on canned tomatoes as the base for many dishes. Canned tomatoes are one of the staples of my kitchen and I’ve recommended them many times as a good alternative to fresh winter tomatoes (yuck).

But recent reports indicate that the lining of most cans (including tomatoes, beans and soda) contain a resin that leaches a toxic chemical, bisphenol-A (BPA), into food.

BPA has been shown to be a neuroendocrine disruptor and causes several biological problems, especially during development. Outrage over BPA back in April 2008 led to massive changes in consumer demands about the safety of food containers, especially baby bottles and the then-popular Nalgene bottles.

Since publication of the The 7 Foods Experts Won’t Eat article in Shine, I’ve been bombarded with questions asking if it is still okay to eat canned tomatoes.

Here are my thoughts on canned tomatoes & BPA:

1. Canned tomatoes aren’t great, but soda is worse. In the article, Fredrick vom Saal, PhD, says that tomatoes are a particular problem in cans lined with resin because they are acidic, which increases the rate at which BPA enters food. He goes on to argue that this amount exceeds recommended doses and can “impact people.”

Since Dr. vom Saal studies BPA and I do not, I concede his point. But I think it is also important to consider the context of this argument. It is true that tomatoes are acidic, but tomatoes also have many health benefits and can be a valuable part of your diet.

I don’t drink soda (which is substantially more acidic than tomatoes) or eat canned beans, so tomatoes are the only canned food I eat. I also don’t eat canned tomatoes every day. I therefore question if the tiny, sporadic amount of BPA that I am exposed to through canned tomatoes has a real effect on my disease risk, given my healthstyle.

My guess is the risk is very small. If you do drink a lot of soda, however, you may have more to worry about.

2. Glass jars are a fantastic alternative. Home canning was all the rage this summer, and I’m sure those of you who produced gallons of home stewed tomatoes are feeling pretty awesome right now with your BPA-free stockpiles.

There is no way on earth I would have time for a massive canning project of my own, but fortunately there are some wonderful independent companies willing to do it for me and sell them to me as I need.

I have yet to try tomatoes from a glass jar, but my guess is they lack the metallic aftertaste of those in cans. As an experiment, I’ll make my next preserved tomato purchase from one of my favorite companies, Happy Girl Kitchen, to see if I can tell the difference. They are more expensive than the cans I normally get, but it might be worth it for the better flavor. You can also find their products at Foodzie.

Keep up with my foodie experiments on Twitter @summertomato.

3. I’m not a kid, but if you are you should be more careful. One of the biggest problems with BPA is its effect on children. Kids are small, so the amount of BPA they are exposed to pound-for-pound is relatively higher than it is for the rest of us. Children also metabolize (eliminate) BPA more slowly, so the toxins stay in their bodies longer. Lastly, during development certain organs are more susceptible to the effects of BPA, which may result in serious problems later in life.

In other words, BPA is substantially more dangerous for children than it is for adults.

So while BPA may be a mild concern for grownups with a basically healthy lifestyle, it may be worth keeping it out of your diet for the sake of the younger members of your family.

Conclusion

BPA in canned tomatoes is a legitimate concern. However unless you are a regular consumer or are under the age of 6, the long-term impact of BPA on your life is probably mild.

If you would rather be safe than sorry, glass jars are a fantastic BPA-free alternative that will probably improve the taste of your winter tomato dishes.

As for the other items on the list, I mostly agree with their conclusions. However the selection of these particular 7 things (as opposed to dozens of other problematic foods) seems rather random and arbitrary. In my opinion you will get much more out of shopping at the farmers market than you will from fretting over blacklisted foods.

What do you think about canned tomatoes and BPA? Did I answer your questions?

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Subscribe to our newsletter
Sign up today and get a free chapter from my book FOODIST!

49 Responses to “Are Canned Tomatoes Dangerous? The Latest BPA Scare”

  1. Lori Jablons says:

    Thanks for this, Darya. I read the 7 Foods… and got a little freaked about the tomatoes, but you’ve allayed my fears. Pomi is also a good alternative to canned tomatoes, and the taste is great. :)

    • Peter says:

      Interesting about Pomi; are we sure their packaging is inert?

      • Peter says:

        Well, I finally looked into it. I believe Pomi and other foods are using TetraPak cartons. From TetraPak’s Life Cycle Assessment document, it appears these cartons are Forest Council Certified paperboard, laminated with low-density polyethylene (LDPE, recycling code 4) and in some cases have an aluminum foil layer. If this is correct, they should be pretty food safe.

      • Peter says:

        (Aluminum layer is between LDPE layers)

      • Greg says:

        Peter – you’re right in the specs for the type of filling technology, but these are not filled in TetraPak cartons, but another producer of aseptic carton packaging. These are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as well as the Rainforest Alliance. Also look for San Marzano tomatoes packaged in the same carton in Whole Foods as well as other new products that will appear in supermarkets in various regions.

  2. Aneta says:

    But standard canning lids contain BPA too.

    • adam sah says:

      however, canned tomatoes don’t actually touch the lid ! there’s always a small air-gap which keeps them just touching the glass.

      btw, I recently tried the jarred Happy Girl tomatoes that were mentioned and OMG they were delicious, esp. the tomato juice. I’d seen HG at the Santa Cruz farmer’s markets over the years but missed them this summer, and figured I’d try them on Foodzie.

      full disclosure: not that it matters, but I recently joined Foodzie. great bunch of folks and yes the tasting panels are real– and indeed they’re tough critics: the one I saw, they rejected 90% of the products and even picked through product lines to accept only the best products for the site.

      cheers!
      adam
      http://www.adamsah.net/~asah/

    • CP says:

      As of 2013, Ball canning lids are BPA-free.

  3. bob says:

    Nice to see that you admit you’re guessing about the risk from BPA being ‘small’. Advice from someone’s guess should be taken as such. Also, as Aneta points out, ALL canning lids are lined with BPA. We get BPA from so many sources (heck, it’s in the public water supply), my guess would be to avoid BPA from every source you know about, because you’re getting plenty from sources you DON’T know about. Also, you can get beans in BPA-free cans (which still may contain BPA, but in much lower amounts). You cannot get tomatoes in BPA-free cans.
    Thanks for the ‘advice’.

    • Darya Pino says:

      Totally agree with you Bob. I guess my response reflects how little I’m worried about something like this. Most people just have so many other diet/health problems, this seems trivial in comparison.

      The lid point brought up by you and Aneta is an interesting one. I’m still not convinced it is worth giving up cooking with preserved tomatoes, however. They are a very healthy, low calorie base to many delicious winter foods. If you want to avoid all BPA, I’m not sure what the best solution is.

  4. While it takes a lot of effort, my wife and I have never regretted canning our own food, especially tomatoes.

  5. Matt Shook says:

    You can’t avoid all negative things in life…and there is some inherent risk in just about everything we do. I really don’t think it’s a huge deal unless you live exclusively off of canned foods…

    In regards to BPA and the Nalgene bottles…well, a lot of the new fancy metal bottles are lined with BPA. Suckers. ;)

    You can’t go wrong with a nice glass mason jar…with or without the lid.

    • Michael Fons says:

      Actually, you can go wrong with the Kerr/Ball mason jars. Look closely at the inside of the metal lid of the glass mason jar. Does it look familiar? That’s right, it looks just like the inside of a can used in canned goods. And, it’s lined with the exact same BPA-containing plastic as the cans that you are trying to avoid. Don’t believe me, then look it up. I was shocked too. Now, you may say that your food doesn’t touch the top, but it could easily touch if filled high and leaned over ever so slightly. Anyways, your best bet is to buy fresh organic tomatoes and chop them up and cook them to make your sauce. It tastes a lot better than canned/jarred tomatoes too. Just keepin’ it real :-)

      • Maria says:

        Yes, you are right, but usually tomatoes you buy at the market are mostly watery and don’ have the taste like Italian Roma Tomatoes. All the Roma
        tomatoes you buy are taken still green from the tomatoe plant and don’t
        get fresh and sun riped to the super markets, Also what are you doing in winter??? I usually buy at Whole Foods but nevertheless it is nearly
        impossible to do it yourself.

  6. Kat says:

    oh dear. would you happen to know the effect of BPA on canned fish? I started relying on those after I realized how much easier they were than the fish market.

  7. Blake Urmos says:

    There is a lot of guess work going on about this topic, and with good reason. Measuring the risks of BPA exposure is very difficult. Several studies have produced conflicting results which loosely link BPA to different types of disease and cancer. Given the amount of controversy and it being a well known endocrine disrupter, avoiding BPA would be best practices for achieving optimum health.

    The first step is to identify the types of consumer goods that contain BPA. From my research I have learned that several ‘organic’ canned goods contain BPA. Eden Farms is one of the few canned food companies that recognizes the health risks. Also, to my understanding, Nalgene has created a BPA free plastic bottle.

    With more research comes awareness which in turn will pressure companies into finding alternatives. Clearly it is not practical to worry about everything. The human body has amazing healing and cleansing capabilities. However, if there are certain toxins that are avoidable, it may be worth it.

  8. I think I’m inclined to agree with you, Darya. Canned tomatoes are cheap, versatile and have great health benefits.
    There are so many things in this world that can have adverse effects on our health that if tried to avoid them all, we would probably have no time for anything else, if indeed we left the home at all.

  9. Hannah says:

    Thank you for looking into this, Darya; your scientific approach is one of the things that keeps me coming back to your site!

    Tomatoes are the item I most frequently purchase in cans. With a diet that avoids most of the baddies found in the western diet (also devoid of soda!), I figure I am not doing too badly by taking the occasional canned tomato shortcut.

    H :)

  10. Harry Kovaire says:

    “Since Dr. vom Saal studies BPA and I do not, I concede his point.”

    Don’t believe everything you read from these pseudo scientists. This vom Saal clown is a career scare monger with the same ethics as the global warming guys from East Anglia University.

    http://cei.org/gencon/019,04505.cfm

    Eat tomatoes – they’re good for you.

    • Darya Pino says:

      LOL, fair enough! I do my best to stay open minded, but skepticism is certainly my forte. Thanks for your input :)

    • Alan says:

      Since ‘Mountain Coop’ stop selling Water Bottles with BPA, Canadian Gov decided a year later to call BPA as harmful.
      Bad to have BPA in a Baby Bottle because you are warming the milk in hot water, or microwaving the bottle. Once or twice is OK but every meal for the first few months of the baby’s life is carcinogenic.
      Tomato is highly acidic therefore it needs coating to prevent the acid reacting to the Aluminum Can and you are basically digesting aluminum together witht the tomato, expecially if the tomato had been bathed in that Can for a few months, at least. Now with a coating you are saved but instead poisioned by another more harmful chemical instead.
      Well that’s life. Some happily make it to the end and so don’t.

      CBC News:
      http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2010/10/13/bpa-toxic.html

      • L.T says:

        It’s incredible to me that people believe news stories. They aren’t truth. Everyone here should try reading some actual studies done by real scientists instead of believing the hype they hear. There is no evidence to prove that BPA that we ingest in our day to day lives is harmful. Actually, the opposite has been proven! At the low levels we consume, BPA is harmless. Canada is the only country who has jumped on this and it’s based on hype rather than reason. This is crazy, the only reason I can think that false data continues to be published regarding this is that manufacturers want to sell BPA free products and inflated prices. I’ll jar up my own tomatoes because they taste better and are organic, but not because of the BPA false scare.

      • Simon says:

        LT you’re an idiot. Do you think the huge increase in diseases we’ve seen in the last 50 to 100 years is natural progression? No, it’s us exposing ourselves to 10,000 plus man-made chemicals that’s doing it.

        If you think BPA’s are harmless you go ahead and keep ingesting them and we’ll see in 10 or 15 years.

  11. Natalie says:

    I have a canned tomato tip (taken from Alice Waters’ cookbook): canned whole tomatos have more flavor than canned diced tomatos. I don’t know why this is but, in my experience, it’s definitely true. So, buy canned whole tomatos and dice them yourself for a more flavorful dish. It only adds about thirty seconds to your prep time.

  12. Sara says:

    Since you are talking about CANNED tomatoes, you should have a picture of CANNED tomatoes. The picture of JARRED tomatoes at the beginning is misleading.

  13. Hi. I don’t know if anyone else saw this, but Muir Glen has come out w/ BPA free cans for their tomatoes.
    http://www.greenbiz.com/news/2010/04/19/general-mills-pull-bpa-organic-tomato-cans

  14. Just as a follow up, I spoke with a rep at Tree of Life and their cans are NOT BPA free.

  15. You are correct that BPA is more harmful to children, however that does not mitigate the risk to adults. BPA and phthalates, chemicals found in everyday items, may reduce thyroid hormone levels. Your thyroid controls all hormone production and governs many bodily functions. Is it really worth the risk of damaging your thyroid for a bowl of chili?

    If there is a known toxin in a product, it is best to avoid it altogether. Although canned tomatoes are convenient and delicious, there are plenty of other options that will not harm your health. Glass packed tomatoes may be more expensive, and I’m worth every penny!

  16. JR Prospal says:

    OK, so if tons of people complained about BPAs in Nalgene bottles, which, I would image, is far less than those who eat canned tomatoes, why isn’t anyone pushing for changes in can linings? Considering that the entire food industry in the US relies on these products, you’d think this would be a larger concern.

  17. SuAnn says:

    It sounds to me like alot of us are going to die really soon- I’m in my 50’s and we canned tomatoes when I was a kid, but we also bought canned tomatoes and juice too!!! I can nolonger afford to can any kind of vegetables or meat anymore, because, you have to buy bushels of whatever you are canning to make it feasible!!!! Sounds to me like another way to up the price of groceries again!!! What are they going to do – not can anything anymore – everything just about has acid in it!!!!!! Start buying in glass jars and noone will be able to eat anymore because I CAN’T AFFORD TO EAT RIGHT – RIGHT NOW BECAUSE GROCERIES HAVE GONE UP SO MUCH!!!!! WHAT WILL THEY THINK OF NEXT TO UP THE PRICES ON GROCERIES AGAIN???!!!!!! Anyone else feel the same way I do? ARE CANNED TOMATOES NOT GOOD FOR YOU LIKE COFFEE AND PEANUT BUTTER WAS?????? I’M STILL GOING TO EAT CANNED TOMATOES AND ANYTHING I LIKE CANNED BECAUSE NO MATTER THE AIR WE BREATH AND EVERYTHING WE EAT IS GOING TO KILL US SOONER OR LATER ANYWAYS – OR – SO THEY WOULD LIKE US TO THINK IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  18. stephen s says:

    BPA is a xenoestrogen which disrupts hormones in men and women.
    It especially destroys the male sex drive. In women the uterus and vagina and reproductive tracts are altered.
    I think you underestimate the disastrous quality of this chemical.

    • davidlll says:

      Stephen said “It especially destroys the male sex drive.”

      Can be true then, I’ve eaten canned tomatoes all my life and have no problem in that department. As long as the girls are gorgeous!

  19. Tiara Misu says:

    The most delicious tomatoes are Pomi from Italy — they are boxed, so no BPA. And they are from Italy, and taste amazing. A little pricier, but Publix, Kroger, and Harris Teeter put the on sale on a regular basis. I’ve been using them for years when fresh is out of season.

  20. Greg says:

    Whole Foods’ brand San Marzano Tomatoes are now packaged in the same type of aseptic carton as Pomi – it’s safe and sustainable packaging material. More brands of tomato will be appearing in this format in the near future…

  21. cagey says:

    wow being more concerned about soft drink than plastic toxins in your food. Says a lot about the credibility (or lack of) of your opinions…

    • Lisa says:

      The second paragraph of the article indicates that soda cans are lined with BPA as well. Reading comprehension is your friend.

  22. I can get jarred tomatoes here, but they are not organic. So which is more concerning — BPA or pesticides?

    Also, is the BPA in the white-lined tins? Or are the bright metal insides also lined?

    It was my understanding that Eden Foods is the only purchaser of non-BPA-lined cans in the US.

  23. Carol says:

    I wonder of 2 things. All my grandparents, great aunts and uncles etc used canned tomatoes on a regular basis and lived until their 80’s & 90’s. They also ate white bread, italian of course, and ate white pasta EVERY DAY. And meat. Can’t believe they lived that long.

    Also, can you just wash tomatoes in the summer and ziploc them and put them in the freezer. Thaw them and put them in your sauce, soup etc. Does it change the flavor? I’m sure it changes the consistency but I puree mine anyway. Anyone tried it?

    • Darya Rose says:

      BPA is worse for developing nervous systems, and likely your grandparents grew up with jarred tomatoes in the pre-BPA days. I don’t know about freezing tomatoes.

    • Kay says:

      absolutely, and it is easy to do. Also, when frozen whole, you can easily slip the skin off the still frozen tomato by running hot water over it when you are ready to use. I happen to have a vacuum sealer but zip lock bags work well. I have also frozen them in quarters when I have to cut out bad spots. (I grow my own so have no pesticides but do have bug and bird bitten fruit) If you have time, try cooking them down first and then freezing. I also can a lot of tomatoes,but freezing is easier.

What do you think?

XHTML: You can use these basic html tags such as <a>, <b> and <i>.

Want a picture next to your comment? Click here to register your email address for a Gravatar you can use on most websites.