Plastic Challenge 2017
July 19, 2017 – 11:17 am | 4 Comments

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June 2017 was officially the Marine Conservation Society’s  ‘Plastic Challenge’ month.
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Submitted by on April 13, 2010 – 12:04 pm30 Comments

tin_canCanned foods – miracle or menace?

Please note that this article has several updates at the end of it.
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


At last we have the final report and conclusion from EFSA (European Food Standards Agency) following their long scientific study and public consultation process.
Here it is:
“No consumer health risk from bisphenol A exposure”
As always, we at Suma will continue to monitor developments in food safety and packaging, adopt their use where justified and viable and have been pioneers in new product development for many years.

We would ask our customers to be aware that sometimes all is not what it seems regarding packaging alternatives –
Mentioned in customer posts on this subject has been the use of glass jars but many lids use Bisphenol as a liner and the weight of glass regarding transportation has a negative environmental effect.
Also, Tetra Paks are not accepted for recycling by some UK local authorities.
Alternative can linings developed in USA can only be used in Europe if licensed 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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  • Christine says:

    Several US brands are producing BPA-free tins now (not for acidic food like tomatoes, true, but for beans, for example). Eden have been doing it since 1999 – so there must be a commercially available alternative. (I believe it adds approximately 2p to the price of a tin – a premium I’d be very happy to pay!)

  • Jennifer says:

    I’m with Christine above, especially after the publishing of the Harvard study today. The argument that you can just buy dried beans is a disingenuous one, as in Scotland and Ireland, for some unknown reason, I cannot get beans to cook properly, and this is is the case with pressure cooking as well. Adding bicarb doesn’t help, using filtered water “sometimes” helps with pressure cooking, and with the price of gas being what it is, I can’t afford 2 hours of nonstop boiling (yes, after they have been soaked, sometimes for 24 hours), just to risk the beans finally turning from rock hard to mush in a minute.
    You have had plenty of warning that this was coming. A study, like with plastic bottles was eventually going to prove what has been expected. I hope you have KEPT looking for an alternative since this was last posted…

  • Marian Hall says:

    I’ve just read the Harvard study too and I’d happily pay 2p per can or even more for peace of mind. BPA is an oestrogen mimic as are several other environmental pollutants. It’s the cumulative effect of them all that is never considered when setting ‘safe” limits for exposure

  • Charlie says:

    One wonders how food was safely canned before BPA was available.

  • Emanation says:

    I too, and many of my friends, would prefer to spend 2p extra to have BPA – free cans. And, how much more would glass jars cost?

  • Emma R says:

    Hi Emanation,

    I’m just responding to let you know that we are aware of the ongoing investigation into Bisphenol A and will continue to monitor closely the research results and guidelines from the European Food Safety Association and the UK Food Standards Agency. Independant studies have shown that, even when consumed at high levels BPA is rapidly absorbed, detoxified, and eliminated from humans.

    The current situation as outlined on the EFSA website is as follows:

    In effect it seems like research is ongoing and for now the EFSA is still stating that it is safe for food contact products in that:
    “EFSA set a Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) of 0.05 mg/kg body weight for this substance. The TDI is an estimate of the amount of a substance, expressed on a body weight basis, that can be ingested daily over a lifetime without appreciable risk. EFSA found that intakes of BPA through food and drink were well below the TDI, even for infants and children”.

    There is more information available on the UK Food Standards Agency website:

  • Anna says:

    I, for one, will be soaking and boiling until you finally get your act together …

  • DM says:

    I use a lot of tinned beans/chickpeas and tinned tomatoes – I really appreciate the convenience on days when I don’t have a little extra time. I too would be happy to pay a small premium for BPA-free tins.

    Various regulatory authorities say that there is no evidence that consuming a small amount of BPA is unsafe. However, they seem to agree that is not the case for babies and children.

    For women who are pregnant, or for those who are preparing food for young children, it would be very helpful to have a BPA-free option available.

  • CD says:

    I’d happily pay 2p extra for BPA free tins. I’d happily pay for glass. I don’t mind cooking my own if I need large quantities but it’s so time consuming for just a cans worth of chickpeas for a quick salad.

  • MIK says:

    Perhaps, Suma, you cold ammend your text to include the Harvard-publicised alternative. I buy cans in bulk from Suma and am now put off. As my cans probably spend longer in storage they may have more BPA. I do not want any BPA present in my food and am happy to wrok harder at alternatives.

    I would like to see Suma looking into and acquiring this potential alternative and would be prepared to pay extra for better quality and peace of mind which I thought related to Suma’s ethics.

    In addition surely dried and rehydrated beans will have fewer vitamins and beneficial compounds still present?

  • BB says:

    Like many of the above commenters I reached this page because I continue to monitor whether or not you have switched to a BPA-free can for non-acidic foods such as beans. I can assure you that these are widely available in the US (some of my family members there are veterans in the food packing industry). As many of the above note, you are simply losing revenues by not offering a BPA-free can as I simply purchase alternatives in a glass jar or soak my own beans. I would also add that it is really not that useful for a brand marketed as an organic/premium product to simply cite studies that trace BPA amounts are not harmful. Consumers that don’t have such concerns are unlikely to be looking for an organic product in the first place.

  • Emma R says:

    Hi everyone,

    Just keeping you up to date with the latest BPA news. The EFSA were due to publish their latest findings on this subject this month, but have decided to allow more time for consultation. We’ve included the update from the EFSA website below for your information.

    “Continuing its commitment to transparency and openness, EFSA will launch a public consultation in July on its draft scientific opinion on the possible risks to public health of bisphenol A (BPA), a substance used in food contact materials. By extending the timeline for the final adoption of its opinion to November 2013, EFSA’s scientific experts will also be able to consider the results of ongoing scientific work on BPA at European and national level while completing their comprehensive risk assessment.”

    Here’s the website for further information:

  • Jane Sewell says:

    why can't we have tomatoes in glass jars insted?

  • Alisun Pawley says:

    Yes – please could you respond directly to our concerns rather than only quote the EFSA. If they are already canning things safely in the States then you should be quickly following (usually Europe is more cautious, so I’m sure EFSA will conclude as much). As a regular consumer of your products, please can you give us organic AND safely packaged products (they seem contradictory at the moment). Thanks!

  • Maryon Jeane says:

    I for one, after reading up on BPA and the latest findings etc. (and given the appalling record of all our regulatory food safety organisations in the past), am for now buying the Biona range in glass jars until other varieties and brands are available in safer containers. I’ve already done what I can to go back to cooking from scratch by investing in a Thermomix (over eighteen months ago), which has made a huge and positive difference because I can make my own stocks and sauces etc. – but beans are a problem simply because they take so long and smell not particularly good while cooking. Thank you, Biona – but even with that brand the range in glass jars is hardly large.

  • Berkshire Mum says:

    If I pay more for organic, I expect the product to be free of contaminants that might be “standard” for the rest of the industry – so your tinned products are a no-go for me. Glass, yes; now that Tetra Pak is recyclable, even that has greater environmental kudos.

  • David says:

    On investigation, I find there is a viable alternative to BPA.

    Here is an extract from their website –

    “However, Design Analysis Inc, of Jacksonville, Florida, claims that its PolyKoat thermoplastic polyester coating is free of all volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and is a greener alternative to competitive food can linings. It can be attached directly onto a range of hot and cold-rolled metal packaging substrates; galvanised and tin-free steel and aluminium.

    The coating has full food contact status and regulatory approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with confirmation of Canadian and European compliances expected late last year. Tests have proved it to be a stable coating that is highly resistant to chemicals and foodstuffs. Although being tough, it has very good formability and processability features.”

  • Tony Maddocks says:

    Regarding glass jars rather than plastic lined tins… Dolmio and others who produce tomato based pasta sauces all use glass. Absolutely fine as far as I’m concerned. Looks nice. The glass is recyclable. Be great to see baked beans in a glass jar.

  • Maryam says:

    In Holland it is very normal to buy preserved fruits and
    Vegetables in glass jars which gives a better taste as well.
    You can recycle glass so that should not be a problem.
    It is also quite cheap there so would not see why it would be so expensive here.
    I really miss buying it in glass as it tastes much better than tin.
    And to see thd actual product is a plus too.

  • Frances says:

    Agree with the idea of using glass. I’m sure it is something that would work and appeal to a lot of people. Canned food has been around since the Victorian era and plastic has not, so it must have been something induced relatively recently, I feel that Suma are just making excuses. There are some companies out there using BPA free cans:

  • admin says:

    Thanks for the link Frances. I will have a look at this and pass it on to people at Suma who develop our product packaging.

  • Tins – do they contain plastic? – livingwithoutplasticinenglandblog says:

    […] – Really balanced and informed outlook on BPA. Suma are following this as an issue very closely. […]

  • Nicola says:

    Like everyone else who took the time to comment, I do not want poisons in my food. I can’t believe that in 2016 I have scoured the net to try and find sardines and mackerel to buy in the UK that don’t come in BPA tins and can’t find a single supplier.

    As others have said, if it’s about additional cost we will pay. We already pay through the nose for organic ‘apparently’ safe food. I’d like mine toxin-free.

    I’d like to see a complete return to glass for all the reasons already mentioned. Yes, it is heavier and will be less carbon-efficient, but it is fully recyclable – and I use them for storage jars, anyway. Also, since you are in the UK, it is much more carbon neutral to buy in a glass jar in the UK than have to import it from the USA, surely? As for the lids, what on earth did they use before BPAs? Surely a beeswax sealant (or similar) or animal grease (for non-vegetarian food) could seal the tin from the food. Or a waxy seal like on supplement bottles – something other than chemical-covered materials that none of us wants in our food.

    If a UK company can produce this I will, quite literally, buy all my non-fresh foods from that source. I don’t understand why we are so far behind some other countries in this. I am in the middle of researching information for a UK-centric book for alternative treatment for cancer and autoimmune diseases, and I find it disgusting that I can’t find chemical-free food in BPA-free containers. If I ever do find a source of non-toxic food in chemical-free containers I will be recommending everyone buys there in the book.

    There is a HUGE gap in the market in the UK – we need a politically astute company to fill it.

  • John says:

    Please Suma do make contact with the US suppliers of BPA free canning. Surely it is possible they will be interested enough in the business opportunity to make the leap into Europe and we’re certainly happy to pay 2p for peace of mind!
    Thanks in anticipation

  • Jennifer Turner says:

    I have followed your information above with great interest. I would purchase your product if it were BPA free. It is especially important to get your tinned tomatoes in a BPA free tin as the acidity of the tomatoes leeches the BPA into the tomatoes. I currently buy Biona organic chopped tomatoes as their lining does not contain BPA. Please look into their technology!

  • Sarah says:

    Biona does BPA organic tinned plum tomatoes. I will be buying from them instead.

  • Mark James says:

    I’m not inclined to believe studies by govt agencies as they tend to come under pressure from corporate interests.

  • Chang Tan says:

    My family feels strongly about using BPA-FREE products, no matter what EFSA said. Please use BPA-Free cans.

  • Ingrid says:

    Just came across your website as I too wanted to buy organic tomatoes in a can with BPA-free lining. Read all the comments!

    Biona indeed seems to be able to supply them no problem in cans stated that no BPA is used in the lining. Sold on for a very decent price in multi-packs.

    Really you should be able to do the same?

  • Suma Wholefoods says:

    Hi all,

    Just wanted to reassure you that we are continuing to carry out research into BPA alternatives. We’ve been looking into other can lining options, but these alternatives involve plastic lacquers and resins which appear to have had much less research carried out on health effects than BPA, which the European Food Standards Agency has declared as being safe for food (

    See this extract from a recent Soil Association report:

    “Due to increasing consumer pressure, some companies (and indeed countries) are moving away from using BPA in materials which come into contact with food. Many of them are switching to similar alternatives, such as bisphenol-S (BPS) and bisphenol-F (BPF), but these may pose equal health risks; studies are emerging showing that BPS and BPF are as hormonally active as BPA. There is also concern that alternative materials are less functionally suitable, thus reducing the shelf-life of some products, which could contribute to increased food waste.”

    While we are keen to move away from BPA, we will only do this once we are assured that the alternative linings are fully tested and safety-assured.

    Glass is an option but would increase the product cost significantly, as well as the C02 involved in transporting/recycling the goods. Glass jars are not a reliable way to avoid BPA as it can often be found in the lining of the metal lids.

    Ethical Consumer have also published an interesting article on BPA:

    We understand this is a concern to you, and we’re keen to keep all our products as natural and chemical-free as possible. We’re continuing to work on this, and will keep you informed with any updates.

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