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Submitted by on April 13, 2010 – 12:04 pm16 Comments

tin_canCanned foods – miracle or menace?

Canning food first started in the early 19th century and was a huge step for the food industry. Canning enabled foods to be stored for much longer, processed quickly, transported with minimal damage and so helped reduce wastage.  Prior to this foods were bottled, but less efficiently so.  Funnily the can opener wasn’t invented for a further 80 years and the thick cans had to be hammered open with a knife.

Today’s cans, by comparison are thin, light, reliable and many have an easy open ring pull – no hammering or tin openers required.   There have been  some health concerns regarding canned food though – mainly surrounding the use of a substance called Bisphenol-A used in the lacquer that acts a  barrier between the metal of the can and the food.

Is there Bisphenol-A in my canned food?

The simple answer is that there will be minute trace amounts. Without the lining, the cans would  corrode and the contents (especially acidic food like tomatoes) would react with and leech metal from the can itself.  Sadly, there is no commercially available alternative that we’ve found, so if you know of one we’d like to know.  Guidance for consumers is available from the Food Standards Agency .

You can reduce the opportunity for any contamination from cans entering your food by:

  • once a can is opened empty the contents into a bowl and store in the fridge
  • don’t use to store food in cans or re-use them
  • store cans in a cool dry place and use the oldest first
  • throw away dented, rusting or bulging cans

Studies, advice and allowable levels

Bisphenol-A is a catalyst used in the creation of the plastics used to line cans. It’s been tested many times for safety, and government scientists have agreed a level below which it’s regarded as having no effect on human health.  In early 2009, there was a study that claimed this level was erroneous and after a sudden outcry the government reduced the legal maximum level to a tenth of the previous levels. Suma canned products  were below that new level,  as were most of the cans on the market at the time.

After the above action was taken, various groups were commissioned to do more testing by governments and the results in the study mentioned were unable to be replicated. The acceptable levels of bisphenol-A were returned to their previous levels after this testing as all the evidence said that it was safe at that level.

All the scientific advice we can find, barring the odd scare reported in the newspapers with their legendary selectiveness, is that the acceptable levels are far above what’s in the linings of our cans and we are seeking something more acceptable. Glass jars are a consideration, but there’s a risk of food contamination when breakage occurs, there’s food-grade plastic underneath the lid to prevent corrosion, and it puts more carbon into the atmosphere due to increased weight of product.   Tetra packs and pouches might not weigh as much but their layered composition means the packaging is difficult to recycle and, again are carbon and water heavy in their production.

If anyone does have a viable alternative for pre-cooked beans, soups, and vegetables in cans, we’re quite open to suggestions.

As one of my colleagues says,  if you are concerned there are plenty of dried beans on the market and apart from requiring a little soaking before cooking, and therefore more preparation time, they’re just as good.


We are aware of the ongoing debate about the use of BPA as a liner in cans since publishing our website article on this subject in April 2010.
We have continued to monitor the ongoing research and official statements.
In Feb 2012, both the UK and European Food Standards Agencies repeated their advice that BPA was considered safe to use but also said that further research was planned.
The latest update from the EFSA on 29th Oct 2012 refers to a major meeting of European experts and advisory bodies and sharing of research on the BPA subject.
“This meeting was organised as part of the scientific discussions contributing to the development of EFSA’s ongoing assessment of human health risks associated with BPA, and its new scientific opinion scheduled for completion in May 2013. EFSA frequently promotes dialogue with its national and international partners on the latest scientific developments to ensure that European-level advice is based upon the most up-to-date and reliable information possible.”
See full article here

We have seen a lot of conflicting and potentially misleading information on the internet on this subject.
Please be assured that as a responsible and ethical food supplier we will continue to monitor the situation closely and will react accordingly and quickly should the current UK and European Food Safety Agency’s advice change.

Naturally, if in the future, the EFSA change direction and advise on the discontinued use of BPA, we would follow their guidance and legislation of what to use instead.
We are aware that what is OK for use in the United States is not necessarily approved in Europe


The European Food standards agency have announced that they will conduct a public consultation between July and September 2013 regarding their ongoing scientific investigation into exposure to Bisphenol A. They are planning a second stage consultation in early 2014 after which they will finalise its scientific opinion. See


The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has extended the timeline to complete its full risk assessment of Bisphenol A (BPA) to the end of 2014. They say in their announcement that this is to allow time to assess all the information.
Read the announcement by clicking here

We will continue to monitor and report and will take appropriate, informed action when the results of the assessment are made public.

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