Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Blow The Lid Off

When news about BPA and it's harmful aftereffects hit the news a couple years ago, I panicked. The bottles I had been using for my daughter were of course, laden with the stuff.  I tossed them immediately and never looked back. I've made a serious effort to avoid the toxic endocrine disruptor at all costs. I now avoid buying plastics and if I simply must have something of a plastic-y nature, I make sure it is stamped with a reassuring "BPA Free" disclaimer.

For those of you who don't know, BPA or Bisphenol A is an industrial chemical used to make polycarbonate plastic resins, epoxy resins, and other products. It makes plastics clearer, stronger and more heat resistant. What's not to like, right? Well, studies have found that BPA can trigger a number of harmful effects including but not limited to acceleration of puberty, increased cancer risks, increased incidence of heart disease, and diabetes. But it makes my my Tupperware strong and pretty and microwave safe so who cares, right?

Then, about a year or so ago, we discovered that most canned goods you buy from the store are preserved in cans lined with a plastic containing, you guessed it, BPA. Great. So now, I preserve as much food as I can on my own to minimize my family's exposure. But wait! What's this? Come to find out, home canning lids have BPA in them too. Talk about a downer. My heart sank when I read it. It's like we can't win. All the major brands: Ball, Kerr, Golden Harvest, and Bernardin all use BPA in the coating of their lids. The Bernardin website states:

"Jarden Home Brands manufacturer of home canning lids: Ball, Kerr, Golden Harvest, and Bernardin brands follow the same rigorous FDA standards used by the commercial food packaging industry. Like the majority of commercial food packagers using glass jars with metal closures and metal sanitary cans, the coating on our home canning lids is designed to protect the metal from reacting with the food it contains. A small amount of Bisphenol A is present in the coating. The FDA does not limit Bisphenol A in commercially packaged foods, and is aligned with the international scientific community’s position that a small amount of Bisphenol A in contact with “canned foods” is not a health concern for the general public."

Oh. Thanks. That makes me feel better. As long as the FDA doesn't think we're getting poisoned, it's cool.  Give me a break! The FDA has been notoriously wishy-washy with the whole BPA thing. Though they concluded that at "current levels" BPA poses no threat, they immediately recommended ways to minimize exposure. If it's not dangerous, why do we need to minimize exposure? The Food and Drug administration is a joke. Their primary concern is the bottom line rather than our safety. Despite their reassurances, I wouldn't trust the FDA report on BPA. There's lots of information out there. Do some research and decide for yourself.

So what does this mean for home canners? A few things to consider:
  • There is rumor on a few message boards that Jarden Home Brands is planning to release BPA free lids due out sometime next year. Hopefully, there's truth to the chatter. 
  • There is a bit of head space between the contents of our jars and the lid. There will probably not be much contact between the food and the lid. Remember to keep jars in the upright position and take them straight up and out of the canner to avoid contamination. Acidic foods like tomatoes and pickles are more likely to pick it up so be extra careful when handling them.
  • You can avoid BPA all together by canning with all-glass jars like those made by the German company Weck. Weck makes beautiful jars but brace yourself. They cost a fortune. Example. I just purchased a dozen half pint jars for jelly making. It cost me $7. To buy a dozen half pint globe jars from Weck? It'll cost you $60. PLUS shipping. Yikes!
Please oh please, do not let me discourage you from putting up your harvests. Home canning is a smart, economical and immensely gratifying practice that I hope never goes away. I write only to caution you and to make you aware. Be smart. Home canning may be down but it's certainly not out. I suggest visiting your favorite lid brand's website and sending a firm (but politely worded) email to the company explaining to them the dangers of BPA and how you, as a consumer of their fine products, will not stand for it. There's strength in numbers readers...

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