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BPA in Canned Food

Behind the Brand Curtain

BPA in Canned Food: Behind the Brand Curtain
BPA in Canned Food: Behind the Brand Curtain

EWG’s market survey and analysis

June 3, 2015

BPA in Canned Food: EWG’s market survey and analysis

EWG’s survey focused on brands and companies offering classic canned foods – vegetables, fruits, juices, beans, soups, stews and other canned meals, deli goods, tomatoes, sauces, meat, fish and shellfish, canned milk, coconut milk and desserts. Previous testing of some of these products had shown that BPA could migrate from the can linings to the food at levels that posed a risk to health. 

To develop its list of canned food brands and companies, EWG searched corporate and brand websites and used data and images from LabelINSIGHT® (Appendix A), a company that gathers information from American supermarkets. EWG collected information on current can lining practices from brand and company websites and social media pages and through direct phone and email communication with company representatives. The bulk of direct communication with companies took place over eight months from January to August 2014.

In all, EWG identified 252 appropriate food brands produced by 119 companies (Appendix B), including small independent companies, major global food brands and private-label brands from major supermarket chains.

Categories

EWG classified each brand’s BPA use in one of four categories:3

  • Using BPA-Free Cans: A brand was classified as using BPA-free cans if it reported using no BPA in any of its canned products.
  • Using BPA-Free Cans for Some Products: A brand was classified as using BPA-free cans for some products4 if it had eliminated BPA from some but not all of its canned products. (See Appendix C for a list of products in this category.)
  • Using Cans With BPA: A brand was classified as using cans with BPA if none of its canned products are BPA-free.
  • Unclear: A brand was classified as unclear5 if information was not available or the company-provided information was too limited to make a decisive judgment on BPA use.

Companies often have multiple brands. Brands belonging to one company sometimes have different BPA practices6.

Based on their products’ combined BPA status, EWG then placed a select group of companies surveyed into one of four groupings: Best Players, Better Players, Uncertain Players and Worst Players.

Best Players:

Companies with brands exclusively in the using BPA-free cans category7.

Based on EWG's analysis, the good news is that 31 brands and 21 companies are using BPA-free cans for at least one of their brands (Appendix D).

Only 13 companies, however, are using BPA-free cans for all their products and/or brands (Table 1).

Table 1. Best Players

Company Brand
American Tuna, Inc. American Tuna
Amy's Kitchen, Inc. Amy's
Annie's, Inc. Annie's Homegrown
Euro-USA Trading Co., Inc. Bionaturae
Farmer's Market Foods, Inc. Farmer's Market
Juanita's Foods Juanita's
Jyoti Natural Foods Jyoti Natural Foods
King Oscar AS King Oscar
Lucini Italia Company Lucini Italia
Raincoast Trading Company Raincoast Trading
Sprouts Farmers Market, Inc. Sprouts Farmers Market
The Hain Celestial Group, Inc. Bearitos, Earth's Best Organic, Gluten Free Café (From Health Valley), Health Valley, Health Valley Organic, Imagine, Walnut Acres, Westbrae Natural
Tyson Foods, Inc. Tyson

Source: Environmental Working Group, from data collected in EWG market survey and analysis, 2014

** Disclaimer. The conclusions and findings that appear on this page reflect EWG's research at the time of publication stated above. In light of evolving market conditions, subsequent product reformulations, and other factors, they may no longer be current. EWG makes no representations or warranties about any of the products that may appear on this page. EWG hereby disclaims all warranties with regard to any of the products that may appear on this page, including express, statutory, implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular use.

Consumers can have confidence in the safer packaging of all products sold from these top-shelf makers.

  • Amy’s Kitchen, Inc. sets the gold standard. It uses BPA-free cans for its entire line of Amy’s canned goods and makes this policy clearly known on its website (as of April 2015). It uses BPA-free labels and has provided some information about the alternatives it uses. The company has reported that its tests for BPA on its products with the new liner reveal a detection level of less than 1 part per billion, a reasonably rigorous standard that accounts for the likelihood that some food itself can test positive for BPA contamination, or the chemical can be introduced during processing.
  • Another clear winner in this category is the Hain Celestial Group, an early adopter of BPA-free packaging. Hain Celestial owns Bearitos, Earth’s Best, Imagine, Walnut Acres and Westbrae Natural brands.
  • King Oscar AS, which sells seafood in BPA-free tins under the King Oscar label, is another champion. According to its Facebook page, it independently tests its tins “to assure they are indeed BPA-free” (King Oscar 2014).
  • Sprouts Farmers Market, Inc. shines as the only supermarket chain in our survey to offer a complete line of BPA-free canned goods, with no exceptions, under its own private label, (Sprouts Farmers Market).
  • Other Best Players with excellent disclosure of their BPA-free status on their company websites include American Tuna, Inc., Euro-USA Trading Co., Inc., Farmer’s Market Foods, Inc., Lucina Italia Company and Raincoast Trading Company.
  • Rounding off our Best Players list are Annie’s, Inc., Juanita’s Foods, Jyoti Natural Foods and Tyson Foods, Inc. All reported using only BPA-free cans for all canned items.

Better Players:

Companies using BPA-free cans for some of its brands and/or products.

This category spans a wide range of companies, from those that converted to using BPA-free cans for all but a single product type to those that converted just a small fraction of their canned offerings. A total of 34 brands belonging to 26 companies are using BPA-free cans for some of the line. Of these, 20 responded to our request for specific product information or had a publicly available list online. Another 15 companies reported using BPA-free cans for some types of products for every one of its brands. They provided, at a minimum, food category lists – all canned tomatoes, all canned beans, etc. Some brands went a step further, providing complete lists of full product names.

Eden Foods deserves honorable mention for its pioneering work to develop its signature BPA-free oleoresin lining. Eden also rates high for transparency. It acknowledges on its website (as of April 2015) that it uses an epoxy-based lining in its canned tomato products.

Another standout, Natural Value, Inc., has transitioned the majority of its products to BPA-free packaging. Natural Value provided EWG on April 21, 2014 with UPC codes for all of its 44 BPA-free, Natural Value canned items8 (See Appendix C). In contrast, other companies merely indicated that some of their products were in BPA-free cans but did not identify the products or categories.

  • Aldi Nord’s Trader Joe’s brand packs all of its tomatoes, chicken and beef, most of its fruit, vegetables and beans and some of its soups and seafood in BPA-free cans. Trader Joe’s website (as of April 2015) clearly distinguishes which of its products are packaged in BPA-free linings and which have not yet transitioned.
  • Whole Foods Market told EWG it uses BPA-free cans for all of its 365 Everyday Value canned tomatoes, fish, coconut milk and pumpkin, as well as all 365 Organic Everyday Value canned vegetables.
  • Wegmans brand, from Wegmans Food Markets, Inc., earned good marks for its sizable list of BPA-free canned fruit and vegetable products and for the prominent BPA message on its website (accessed April 2015).
  • Another company with superior customer communications is Crown Prince, Inc., which owns Crown Prince, Crown Prince Natural and Ocean Prince brands. The majority of its canned products use a non-BPA lacquer lining. Its message comes across consistently (as of April 2015) on its “BPA Free Cans” web page, in the individual product descriptions on its website and on the products themselves. The company provided EWG with UPC codes.
  • Seneca Foods Corp., whose Read and Seneca brands use BPA-free cans exclusively, is making great progress. Its Libby’s brand uses BPA-free cans for most vegetables but reported to EWG (in August 2014) that it had not yet adopted BPA-free cans for all products. Seneca Foods deserves bonus points for providing the year that its BPA-free cans went on the market and helpful instructions on how to decipher the can coding system that identifies the year.

At the lower end of the Better Players spectrum,

  • ConAgra Foods, Inc.* reported on January 22, 2014 using BPA-free cans for some products in only one of its 13 brands - Hunt's.
  • Del Monte Foods, Inc. told EWG on August 13, 2014 it used BPA-free cans for some products in its College Inn, Contadina and S&W lines.
  • General Mills reported on January 19, 2014 and September 4, 2014 using BPA-free cans for its Muir Glen brand but not for its Green Giant, Old El Paso and Progresso lines.

Uncertain Players:

Some 109 brands marketed by 54 companies did not make clear whether they were using BPA in their cans. Thirty-two of the 54 companies did not respond to EWG’s requests for information.

Some 22 companies responded or had website information available but failed to clearly communicate their cans’ BPA status. A number were unwilling to respond to what they deemed a too-broad inquiry. Some refused to say definitively whether some of their products had shifted to BPA-free cans unless EWG provided specific product names or lot codes identifying a particular batch of cans.

The reason typically given was that the brand or company contracts with hundreds of suppliers to produce and package its products, and the suppliers obtain their cans independently. Some companies said that some products may have multiple suppliers, and they would need specific product information to determine the supplier for any particular product. In particular:

  • A spokesperson for Wal-Mart’s Great Value brand told EWG on July 31, 2014 that the company could only give information by telephone on a product-by-product basis, with a limit of three products per call, and it would need to know what store the product came from. Its website (accessed May 2015) has no information on BPA in canned food.
  • Supervalu, Inc., parent company for the brands Carlita, Cowboy Billy’s, Del Pino’s, Essential Everyday, Shop ‘N Save, Wild Harvest Organic and Shopper’s Value, said on August 1, 2014 it would need to know the brand name, product type, product UPC and product lot in order to respond to EWG’s query.

A consumer trying to figure out whether a product has a liner with BPA will find that information difficult to come by and may have to buy the product first.

Many companies reported some progress in making a transition to BPA-free cans, but some were more cooperative than others in quantifying that progress and providing clear, measurable data.

For instance, in an email responding to EWG’s specific inquiry about Kraft Foods Group’s9 Taco Bell brand, the company said only that it uses “an interior epoxy coating with trace amounts of BPA” in “some of (its) products packaged in metal cans.” It did not say whether this included Taco Bell products (K. McMiller, personal communication, August 7, 2014).

B&G Foods, Inc., responding to EWG’s query about its Ortega brand and six of its other brands, wrote in an email that, “Most of the cans and plastic packaging B&G Foods, Inc. uses do contain BPA” (B&G Foods consumer affairs representative, personal communication, January 23, 2014).

Campbell Soup Company responded: “We've already started using alternatives to BPA in some of our soup packaging, and we're working to phase out the use of BPA in the linings in all our canned products… We currently have millions of non-BPA cans in the market” (Campbell Soup Company representative, personal communication, August 6, 2014). Campbell Soup Company markets canned products under its Campbell’s, Pace, Swanson, V8 and SpaghettiOs brands. The Campbell’s brand has at least four lines of canned soups: Condensed Soups, Chunky, Healthy Request and Homestyle. EWG pressed for clarification as to which of its brands and products use BPA-free cans, but the company did not respond further.

Other companies that ignored EWG’s inquiries and provide no relevant information on their websites were Ahold USA, Aldi US, Albertson’s, LLC, Associated Wholesale Grocers, Rite Aid Corp., Roundy’s Supermarkets, Inc., Del Haize America, Panos brands, Teasdale Foods, IGA, Inc. and Food Lion, LLC – companies with broad reach and multiple brands. However, some companies among the Uncertain Players, including Allens, Inc.10 and The Kroger Co., are making at least some effort. Allens, Inc. said on January 23, 2014 it was commercially testing a non-epoxy lining but did not identify exact retail markets, brands, or products. Consumers who purchase the brands Allens, Butterfield, Freshlike, Sugary Sam, Trappey’s, Veg-All, Popeye Spinach, Princella or Royal Prince would have no way to know for certain whether their cans were part of the trial. Although The Kroger Co. did not provide details on the extent of their use of BPA-free cans, Kroger’s website (accessed April 2015) indicated that it was working on the issue. These two companies, and others, have given various reasons for not shifting more quickly to BPA-free cans, including:

  • Suppliers and manufacturers are still researching suitable substitutes.
  • Alternatives must pass regulatory approval.
  • New linings must meet strict freshness, preservation and quality standards and require testing throughout a product's entire shelf life.
  • Flavor concerns have arisen with some alternatives.
  • There are no acceptable BPA replacements for high-acid foods such as tomatoes and some fruits and seafood.
  • BPA-free cans are in short supply in some countries where products are packed.
  • The limited stock of BPA-free cans leaves some companies at a purchasing disadvantage.
  • The higher cost of alternatives makes it difficult to offer moderately priced products.

Worst Players:

Companies with brands in the using cans with BPA category exclusively.

In its analysis, EWG identified 78 brands (31 percent of the total survey) that still use cans lined with BPA (See Appendix B). These brands are marketed by 35 companies (29 percent of the total). Some 27 companies (23 percent) use BPA cans in all their brands or products and receive special placement on our Worst Players list (Table 2).

Table 2. Worst Players

Company Brand
Andre Prost, Inc. A Taste of Thai, Coconut Milk by Andre Prost, Inc.
Bell-Carter Foods, Inc. Lindsay Olives
Bookbinder's Foods, Inc Bookbinders Specialties
Bruce's Foods Corporation Bruce's, Casa Fiesta
Bush Brothers & Company Bush's
Cento Fine Foods Cento
Chincoteague Seafood, Inc. Chincoteague Seafood Brand, Gordon's Chesapeake Natural
Culinary Collective Matiz Gallego
Hormel Foods Corporation Dinty Moore, Hormel, Hormel Chili, Peloponnese, Spam, Stagg Chili, Valley Fresh
Knouse Foods Co-operative, Inc. Lucky Leaf, Musselman's
Look's Gourmet Food Company, Inc. Bar Harbor
Mario Camacho Foods Mario
McCormick & Company, Inc. Simply Asia, Thai Kitchen
MegaMex Foods, LLC Chi-Chi's, Embasa, Herdez, La Victoria
Musco Familiy Olive Company Early California, Pearls
National Fruit Product Co. White House Foods
Nestlé USA Carnation, Libby's Pumpkin
Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. Ocean Spray
Oregon Fruit Products Oregon Specialty Fruit
Pea Soup Andersen's Andersen's
Pinnacle Foods Group, LLC Armour, Brooks, Duncan Hines Comstock, Duncan Hines Wilderness, Nalley
Rao's Specialty Foods, Inc. Rao's Homemade
Red Gold, Inc. Red Gold, Red Pack, Sacramento, Tuttorusso
Sokol & Company, Inc. Solo Foods
Target Corporation Market Pantry
The J.M. Smucker Company Eagle Brand, Magnolia, PET
Topco Associates, LLC Clear Value, Dining Out, Food Club, Full Circle, Valu Time, World Classics

Source: Environmental Working Group, from data collected in EWG market survey and analysis, 2014

** Disclaimer. The conclusions and findings that appear on this page reflect EWG's research at the time of publication stated above. In light of evolving market conditions, subsequent product reformulations, and other factors, they may no longer be current. EWG makes no representations or warranties about any of the products that may appear on this page. EWG hereby disclaims all warranties with regard to any of the products that may appear on this page, including express, statutory, implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular use.

  • Hormel Foods Corp. has seven brands on EWG’s list and a 50 percent stake in another four brands.11 None are using BPA-free cans.
  • All five of Pinnacle Foods Group, LLC’s brands, including Armour, Brooks, Duncan Hines Comstock, Duncan Hines Wilderness, and Nalley, use BPA-based cans.

The majority of brands and companies in the using cans with BPA category indicated that they are sensitive to consumer concerns and demand for BPA alternatives, aware of the evolving science and tracking potential changes to FDA’s or international food safety regulations, but fewer than half showed signs of making a prompt change. Some tout their removal of BPA in other products, including baby and toddler supplies, plastic shopping bags, paper receipts and frozen meal trays, but they still use the chemical for can linings.

Most provided no timeline for action. Some 18 companies representing 42 brands reported that they had begun to research or test alternatives with suppliers or were working to reduce or eliminate BPA from their packaging. But 17 companies with 36 brands made no reference to progress on this front.

  • J.M. Smucker Co. said that its Eagle Brand, Magnolia and PET canned milk brands contain BPA in amounts “within the limit approved by the FDA” (J.M. Smucker Co. customer service relations, personal communication, January 15, 2014).
  • Topco Associates LLC, parent company to the Clear Value, Dining Out, Valu Time, World Classics, Full Circle and Food Club brands, wrote: “The industry is actively researching alternative applications for can linings. In the meantime, we understand the concern over this particular application, and we continue to monitor the issue closely to assure that all of our packaged foods are in compliance with government regulations and industry standards” (Topco Associates, LLC consumer services team, personal communication, January 17, 2014).
  • Target Corp., parent to the Market Pantry brand, responded: “Today’s standard metal food can liner contains a small amount of BPA. This particular metal can liner is commonly found within can products sold across the retail food industry. The Target owned brand food manufacturers have guaranteed Target that food products and their containers adhere to all FDA food safety requirements” (Target Corp. guest relations, personal communication, January 29, 2014).

* In June 2015, ConAgra Foods informed EWG that it has made substantial progress removing BPA from its product packaging portfolio, with plans to complete its transition to BPA alternatives by the end of July 2015.


[3] A more detailed explanation of the methods used to classify BPA-status appears in Appendix A.

[4] Brands and companies reporting some BPA-free cans were asked to provide a list of specific products to support their claims.

[5] Brands and companies that either failed to respond to EWG’s queries or responded ambiguously, coupled with a BPA status that was either unclear or unavailable through their websites or social media feeds.

[6] Thirteen companies have some differences in BPA status across their brands and were therefore not included in the tally of companies with a consistent BPA status for all of its brands. They are listed in detail in Appendix E.

[7] Companies that conducted their own can testing, and provided a limit of detection that EWG deemed unreasonably high, were not eligible for the Best Players list.

[8] Information provided by Natural Value, Inc. regarding its coconut water and pet food is not included in this figure.

[9] Communication with Kraft Foods Group, Inc. occurred prior to its merger with the Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. and 3G Capital consortium-owned, Heinz.

[10] Communication with Allens, Inc. occurred prior to its acquisition by Sager Creek Acquistion Corp. and subsequent name change to Sager Creek Vegetable Company.

[11] MegaMex Foods, LLC is a Joint Venture Between Hormel Foods Corporation and Herdez del Fuerte, S.A. de CV.