Facing mounting pressure from consumer advocates and environmental activists, Campbell Soup and Del Monte Foods have announced timetables for replacing bisphenol A (BPA)-based coatings in food cans.
Epoxy-based coatings, made from the raw materials BPA and epichlorohydrin, have long been favored for the interior lining of food cans because they are flexible, resist corrosion, and don’t alter the flavor of the foods inside.
But the possibility that BPA in high enough doses may act as an endocrine disruptor has made its use in food-contact applications controversial. Polycarbonate, also made with BPA, has been phased out of baby bottles, and EPA banned BPA for infant formula cans. Food companies have pledged in recent years to seek alternatives across their product lines.
Campbell promised four years ago to phase out BPA-containing coatings. Now the firm says it has delivered about 2 million cans lined instead with acrylic- and polyester-based coatings. The company hopes to complete the replacement across the U.S. and Canada by the middle of next year for products including its eponymous soup, Swanson broth, and SpaghettiOs pasta.
Campbell executive Mark Alexander acknowledges that the transition has taken a long time. “Today, we are not where we would have hoped to be when we made that announcement,” he wrote on a company blog. Finding a replacement suitable for tomato-based recipes took a while because those acidic products can react with linings. He also cited the cost and complexity of changing 2 billion cans annually across 600 products.
Del Monte says all of its fruit and tomato products as well as most of its vegetables will convert to BPA-free linings at the beginning of May.
The companies’ announcements coincided with the release of a report by a consortium of consumer and environmental advocacy groups—including the Breast Cancer Fund, Ecology Center, and the Mind the Store campaign—that criticizes the food industry’s lack of alacrity in removing BPA.
The consortium purchased 192 canned foods from grocery stores and examined their linings using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. It found that 129 of the cans contain BPA-based epoxies, including all of the 15 Campbell cans tested as well as 10 of 14 Del Monte cans. It also found overwhelming use of epoxy in private label cans at retailers such as Kroger and WalMart.
“We expected that the explosion in consumer demand for BPA-free packaging would have resulted in swifter action by canned food brands and retailers,” the report said.
In the non-epoxy can liners, the consortium says it detected styrene acrylics, oleoresins, polyvinyl chloride copolymers, and polyesters. The consortium noted that little is known about the health effects of some of the substitutes. And some, it pointed out, are made with known or suspected carcinogens such as vinyl chloride and styrene.