We share the concerns of scientists and consumers about plastic food packaging.
Here's what we know about the three plastics typically used the types of bags, pouches, and cans in which our foods are packaged: PET, polycarbonate, and BPA.
Polyethylene terephthalate or PET, or is the chemical name for polyester.
When PET is used for fiber or fabric applications, it is usually referred to as "polyester." When used for container and packaging applications, it is typically called "PET" or "PET resin."
The plastic pouches in which our vacuum-sealed frozen fish are packaged are generally made from PET, but may be made from other FDA-approve plastics and may contain other FDA-approved food-packaging chemicals.
(Note: Despite their similar names, polyethylene terephthalate [PET] is not a phthalate compound ... see "PET and phthalates are not the same", below.)
PET is used in everything from surgical implants and soft drink or water bottles to peanut butter jars.
Special grades of PET are used for carry-home prepared food containers that can be warmed in the oven or microwave.
PET has been deemed safe by the U.S. FDA and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for use in many food packaging applications.
PET does not usually contain BPA, but may contain BPA (see "What is BPA?", below).
There is little scientific data to suggest that PET causes disease or produces estrogen- or endocrine-modulating activity.
Polycarbonate and BPA
Polycarbonate is is a lightweight plastic used in a wide variety of common products, including reusable bottles and food storage containers.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a key building block of polycarbonate and the polycarbonate-based epoxy resins used to line food cans.
Polycarbonate resins are used to keep the can material from corroding or reacting with the food and thereby acquiring a metallic taste.
The only alternative can linings are enamel linings made from plant-derived oils and resins. However, virtually no can makers use oleoresin linings, which dissolve in the presence of high-acid foods such as tomatoes and canned crab or mollusks.
BPA is a known endocrine-disruptor, which means that it can bind to estrogen receptors and produce hormonal effects.
Minuscule traces of BPA have appeared in tests of (non-Vital Choice) foods packaged without BPA ... findings that show the ubiquity of BPA in the environment.
BPA is used in countless other manufactured goods, including cash register receipt paper and other items that people handle routinely.
BPA status of Vital Choice cans and jars
Unfortunately, it is impossible for any food brand to provide an absolute guarantee that none of their foods in cans (or in jars with plastic-lined lids) are free of BPA or other bisphenol compounds (e.g., BPS, BPF, or BADGE).
There are three reasons why no food retailer (including Vital Choice) can or will provide absolute guarantees:
- The makers of food cans and can linings are not legally required to disclose the exact contents of their products.
- Because BPA and other bisphenol compounds are commonly found in human environments – including the air and surfaces in manufacturing plants – the makers of food cans and can linings often refuse to provide any guarantees about the presence or absence of BPA and other bisphenol compounds in their containers.
- BPA and other bisphenol compounds are commonly found in human environments – including the air and surfaces in food and food-container manufacturing plants. Therefore, even foods packaged in containers certified "BPA-free" may contain traces of bisphenol compounds.
With those three important caveats in mind, here's what the suppliers of our food cans say about their containers:
Product cans that do not knowingly or intentionally contain BPA or other bisphenol compounds:
- Salmon: Our canned salmon comes from two different companies, each of which uses cans from different suppliers.
Can Supplier #1 provided this statement on April 8, 2015: "The interior coatings of the can and end(s) [lids] ... are not epoxy based and therefore would not contain any intentionally added Bisphenol-A."
Can Supplier #2 provided this statement on March 10, 2016: "The  can manufacturers have confirmed that our retail canned salmon containers are coated with food contact materials that are manufactured without BPA."
- Sardines and Mackerel: The internal linings are certified BPA-NI, which means that they are not intentionally made with BPA or other bisphenol compounds (e.g., BPS, BPF, or BADGE).
This is the August 5, 2014 statement from the maker of our sardine and mackerel cans: "Internal protective coatings comply with Regulation (EC) No. 1895/2005 (on certain epoxy materials) – Bisphenol A and constituents of Bisphenol A are not intentionally used in their manufacture."
Product cans that may contain bisphenol compounds other than BPA:
- Tuna: In 2010, our tuna canner forwarded statements from the two makers of the resinous coatings for their cans, stating that the resins lining the interior of the cans do not contain intentionally added BPA, but they did not mention other bisphenols.
Our tuna canner could not certify the absence of BPA or other bisphenols.
Accordingly, our tuna can linings may (intentionally or unintentionally) contain bisphenol compounds other than BPA (e.g., BPS, BPF, or BADGE).
Note: 20 parts per billion of BPA appeared in a 2009 test of our canned albacore tuna. This low level, and the fact that the type of lining used does not normally contain added BPA, suggests the BPA came from the environment (air or surfaces) in the canning or can-making facilities (see the article links below*).
Product cans that intentionally contain BPA or other bisphenol compounds:
- Dungeness Crab, Wild Oregon Tiny Pink Shrimp, and Smoked Mussels: The suppliers have said that their can linings intentionally contain BPA, in order to protect against corrosion from the high acidity of shellfish.
*You may be interested in these past newsletter articles on the subject:
PET and phthalates are not the same
Phthalates (more accurately, orthophthalates) are a family of plastic compounds used to make other plastics flexible, and have been shown to possess endocrine-disrupting properties.
Although "polyethylene terephthalate” (the plastic) and "phthalate” (the additive) may sound alike, they are chemically dissimilar.
PET is not an orthophthalate, nor does PET contain orthophthalates.
Our cans do NOT contain phthalates, and, unlike phthalates, PET is not yet proven to possess endocrine-disrupting properties.
Recent test results suggesting that PET may possess endocrine-disrupting properties are questionable, given the high risk of "false-negative" results when testing bottled water or packaged foods for endocrine-disrupting properties.
For example, a 2011 university study funded by the German government (whose authors declared no conflicts of interest) found that deep-spring water packaged in glass showed traces of endocrine-disrupting properties.
Their results suggest that even spring water (or raw foods) can be contaminated with endocrine-disrupting chemicals (Wagner M, Oehlmann J 2011; section 4.3. Sources of estrogenic contamination).
- American Chemical Society. Can Conundrum: Chemists come up short in attempts to remove bisphenol A from food can liners. Jly 20, 2009. Accessed at http://pubs.acs.org/cen/email/html/cen_87_i29_8729bus2.html
- Lyche JL, Gutleb AC, Bergman A, Eriksen GS, Murk AJ, Ropstad E, Saunders M, Skaare JU. Reproductive and developmental toxicity of phthalates. J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2009 Apr;12(4):225-49. Review.
- Rider CV, Furr JR, Wilson VS, Gray LE Jr. Cumulative effects of in utero administration of mixtures of reproductive toxicants that disrupt common target tissues via diverse mechanisms of toxicity. Int J Androl. 2010 Apr;33(2):443-62. Review.
- Wagner M, Oehlmann J. Endocrine disruptors in bottled mineral water: estrogenic activity in the E-Screen. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2011 Oct;127(1-2):128-35. doi: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2010.10.007. Epub 2010 Nov 2.