Today is the 200th anniversary of Peter Durand’s patent for preserving food in tin cans. Patent number 3372 was granted on August 25, 1810 by King George III of England.

Canning is an incredible feat of mankind. It allows produce and other food to be preserved at the peak of its freshness to be consumed anytime and anywhere. It served as “on the go” food for soldiers and prevented sailors at sea from developing scurvy.

However, early in their history, cans were sealed with lead solder. During the 1845 Northwest Passage expedition much of Sir John Franklin’s crew members suffered from severe lead poisoning after three years of eating canned food.

Those days are long past, but recently cans have come under fire for another toxic reason.

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is an industrial, toxic compound that is a component of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. It is a component of the epoxy resin liner used in almost all metal food cans and drink cans. BPA enters the food through leaching. Of the cans tested by the Environmental Working Group, chicken soup, infant formula and ravioli had the highest BPA levels, and over half of all cans tested had detectable levels of BPA.

In various studies, BPA has shown to be toxic at low doses and has been linked to cancer, birth defects, miscarriages, obesity, and insulin resistance. BPA is an endocrine disruptor capable of mimicking the body’s own hormones. The greatest risk for negative health effects is during early development; this is especially concerning for women of childbearing age, infants and young children.

It’s time to get BPA out of our cans. In the mean time, there are ways to limit your exposure to BPA. Children and pregnant women should avoid exposure to BPA by limiting consumption of foods in metal cans. Select powdered infant formula instead of liquid infant formula. Avoid canned pastas and soups; rinsed canned fruit or vegetables prior to heating or serving. And avoid the use of plastic food or drink containers with recycling number 7. These recommendations can be found in more detail on the Environmental Working Group website.


200 Years of Cans: From Lead to BPA
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7 thoughts on “200 Years of Cans: From Lead to BPA

  • August 26, 2010 at 10:08 am

    Interesting post. I didn’t know that about the Northwest Passage group.

  • August 27, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    So, I know that commercial cans have varying degrees of BPA in them, but do modern home canning lids contain BPA? I asked this question in a canning class recently – through the local, supercrunchy food coop – and they said no, definitively. The next time I ran into the instructor, she said “By the way, we’re checking into that because other people have been asking about it.” I have another class with her in a few weeks, maybe I can find out then.

  • August 27, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    Jess, according to Treehugger, they found the following statement on Jarden Home Brands’ website (they manufacture Ball, Kerr, Golden Harvest, and Bernardin) regarding the white coating on the lid: “A small amount of Bisphenol A is present in the coating.” When I followed the link, I could not find any reference to BPA, however the TreeHugger article is about a year old.

    Lehman’s and Tattler make BPA-free, reusable lids. I have not tried them . . . .

  • August 27, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    On Wednesday, August 25th, Environment Canada (the Canadian version of the EPA) announced that it intends to label BPA as a toxic substance; it will be the first country to do so.

  • August 28, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    I have seen that treehugger article, but the links dont go anywhere and I have emailed the manufacturer for more recent info, with no response yet. I’m sure they’re busy, so I can wait, but you know. I’d like to know. It won’t stop me from canning….. probably. Even the BPA I may absorb in my own, organic, homemade goods is probably better than the alternatives in commercial canned goods. I just want to know, you know?

    I have heard that those reusable lids are not that great, but I have never used them personally. I would like to switch to all-glass weck/european style jars, but it’s a significant investment and I can’t find a local source.

  • August 30, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    Would love to know if they ever respond, Jess!

    I don’t worry about the BPA in the lids too much, mostly because since the jars are processed and stored upright, I figure the possibility of contamination from leaching is minimized. But I’d still like a viable alternative . . . .

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