To Can or Not To Can? BPA is the question.

With preserving season just around the corner and fresh fruit already arriving for jam, I start, once again, to get that little niggling feeling in the back of my head.  That feeling that tells me that something isn’t quite right, and I don’t have a good answer for it.  I hate that feeling.  I am a problem solver by nature and when I can’t fix a problem I sit and stew about it.  My ongoing problem about preserving is just this: plastic.

By now we all know that BPA is NOT. GOOD.  Bisphenol A is a chemical found in a certain kind of plastic that can leach out of the plastic and into your food.  BPA mimics estrogen and is known to be an endocrin disruptor.  Some countries have banned the use of BPA in baby bottles, and some companies are changing the lining of their cans to not include BPA.

The problem with removing BPA, though, is that it has to be replaced with SOMETHING, and in many cases, a different chemical which is even less studied and could potentially be more dangerous.

A few years ago I learned that canning lids are coated with BPA. This shocked and horrified me.  I searched for a solution but came up with nothing really appropriate.  Tattler sells canning lids that are BPA-free, but what else is in it?  Is it safer or not?  Weck sells glass jars and lids, but not only are the jars very expensive, they are also more difficult to tell if a true seal has been made, leaving botulism and other nasties a remote possibility.  So I gave up.  I continued to can food.  I have hundreds of jars, and many lbs of vegetables to preserve.  But that annoying little feeling continues to bother me.

Some people say that canning is safe because the food doesn’t sit on the inside of the lid, which is the only place that BPA is found.  But when you actually boil your jars, the food bubbles up and boils against the lid, likely plenty long enough to leach out some BPA.  There are NO STUDIES that I have found, that can tell me how much BPA is present in food preserved in a home canning jar compared to a regular aluminum can.  Who is going to do a study on that?  Certainly not the companies selling canning lids!

There are a few other alternatives to canning, and those are freezing and dehydrating.  Freezing generally requires plastic bags (see, plastic again!), especially for items that you would normally can.  Freezing glass jars is a tricky experiment and I have cracked many a jar in the process. Freezing isn’t especially sustainable, either, since a power outage could easily cause mass destruction to the food in your freezer.  Dehydrating is fine, but dehydrated pickles, or salsa, just doesn’t cut it for me…

So I continue to preserve by canning, and I continue to push aside that niggling little feeling.  Until something changes, and we find a better way to preserve our food without the use of any plastic I will still be preserving food in mason jars with BPA canning lids.  And I will HOPE that because the surface value of the lid is so much less than the surface value of aluminum canned food, that the amount of BPA that has leached into the food is minimal.  Maybe someday someone will test glass-canned food and see how much BPA is present.

I would love to hear your opinions on the matter, how you preserve your food and why you choose that method.  Do you think BPA in canning lids is a very real issue?  Why or why not?

This post has been shared on TheMorrisTribe’s Homesteader Blog Carnival 13

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25 comments on “To Can or Not To Can? BPA is the question.

  1. MrsWJAA on said:

    Hi, there are also le parfait brand canning jars that look to be a bit cheaper than the Weck jars.

    I remember when I was younger I saw some canning lids similar to the tattler’s that were made out of an opaque material that clinked together like glass/marble/ceramic. I’m not sure what it was made out of, but it was not plastic of any sort. You may be able to find some online or in an antique shop. Good luck in your search for an affordable, toxin free method of canning:)

    • I have some of these that we got from an estate sale. I haven’t used them yet. I think I will use them for pickles and things where a complete seal isn’t a huge issue. I am nervous about these kind since you can’t really tell if they have sealed or not.

      • Sure you can tell if they are sealed, all you have to do is remove the ring and try picking the jar up by the lid. One thing to make sure is to NOT tighten the lid to tight before they are processed and when the jars are removed to then tighten the lid. Wait till the next day so the jars are completelycooled then test them.

  2. Great post. It’s definitely a concern, but like you, I choose to believe that the amount of contamination during the canning process will end up being less than in store bought foods that sit in BPA-lined cans until the day they’re consumed. I would love to hear if you find an alternative!

  3. I continue to preserve via canning too. It would take a lot of freezers for our big family and take risks of losing it all in power outages we experience in the winter and storms.

    Pop over to the Carnival of Home Preserving if you get a chance. It’s every Friday on my blog and the current edition is here: http://laurawilliamsmusings.blogspot.com/2012/06/carnival-of-home-preserving-16-come.html

  4. Just a quick note on Weck jars – there are two ways to tell if they are sealed. One, the little tab will point downward (a little or a lot, I’ve seen both) – almost as if sticking its tongue out at you! :)

    And two (& most recommended), after the cooling period (I usually can in the evening & leave my jars overnight), remove the clamps (two if hot-water-bath canning, four if pressure canning) and attempt to lift the jar an inch off the counter by the lid.

    If the lid holds, you have a good seal. If it comes right off, you don’t – eat right away or re-process. (However, I have never had a jar not seal.)

    I hope this helps. I’m the Canadian distributor, but I also use these myself and am happy to answer questions. I didn’t start canning until I found Weck jars but that was because I was initially concerned about the environmental costs of one-use lids. BPA wasn’t a known factor then, but it only reinforces my decision.

    Best wishes,

  5. I’m concerned about it too. I’ve looked at the Tattler lids, since I like the fact that they’re reusable. But in light of the recent findings of companies using BPS in place of BPA – I’m not so sure. I haven’t started canning yet – new on the homesteading/more self-reliant path – but since that is one of my short-term goals to achieve this year, it’s one I’ve been reading up on. I don’t want to not can – since it means not having to consume freezer space that can be used by other things – so I think I’m going to have go with the “only a small bit of the food ever comes in contact with the lid and only for a small amount of time” thinking. Otherwise, I’m going to make myself crazier than I already am! :D

  6. Farmer's Daughter on said:

    I continue to can my own but like you I wonder about how much BPA leaches into the food. It doesn’t really bother me for a jam that only processes 10 minutes, but when the time is longer or when I use the pressure canner I get really concerned. Which of course is just a gut feeling, without data to back it up. I wonder about going back to the glass lid and rubber ring method that my grandmother uses. She doesn’t can much anymore because she is mostly blind and has offered me her canning jars. I may try them out under her guidance this year for something like peaches, where I won’t be concerned about botulism.

    Here in Connecticut, BPA is banned in baby products but I still wonder what is in the plastics. Unfortunately I had to use them, since I needed to express milk at work and daycare won’t take glass bottles.

    Thanks for joining the Homesteading Link Up!

    • Those jars are hard to find. I’d grab them if you can! And pick your grandma’s brain for useful information before it is lost forever! I love talking homesteading with the elderly. They have knowledge, wisdom and experience that missed a few generations and will be lost if we don’t dig it back up!

  7. Sarah on said:

    I don’t can, but I make soups, etc. in the fall and freeze individual portions in glass Pyrex-like containers. I also blanch tomatoes from the farmer’s market and freeze in 1 1/2 cup servings to use instead of cans of tomatoes. I don’t know if the plastic lids contain BPA, but the lid doesn’t really come in contact with the food.

  8. Are you concerned that there are additional chemicals in the Tattler lids that they aren’t disclosing? They seem pretty upfront about what the chemical is. Or are you just concerned about the safety of the POM?

    • Yes I am concerned about it. I don’t know if they disclose all of their ingredients or not, but when BPA is not used then it is has to be replaced by a different chemical in the plastic. And often it is BPS which is less studied and potentially more harmful than BPA.

  9. Leahmea on said:

    The fact that neither Ball nor Kerr have come out with hard figures comparing the BPA levels in foods canned in their jars versus the typical canned goods at the grocery store is likely NOT a good sign.
    You’re absolutely right… who would pay for a study to see how much BPA is leached from their lids? Actually, only Ball or Kerr would be interested in paying for a study like that- which means they likely have indeed run at least one study! Like I said, the fact that they’re not shouting from the rooftops that their lids don’t leach high levels of BPA is not a good sign!
    I found this: “A spokeswoman for N.Y.-based Jarden Corp., maker of Ball brand canning jars and lids, said consumers have been asking the company about BPA, which has been present in jar lids since the 1970s, and that the company is studying alternative coatings. (http://www.backyardandbeyond.org/?p=125)” That right there, in my opinion, is damning. And you’re right, they’ll likely just replace the BPA with BPS.
    Frankly, I think we all should slowly/as financially feasible, replace our jars with BPA/BPS-free alternatives as it is the consumerism that drives the market/manufacturing! In that same cited article, the spokesperson said sales were up in the last 3 years and that people concerned with BPA should consider freezing instead. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound as if they’re too motivated to improve their product safety any time soon!!
    For most corporations, their bottom line is profit, not the health of their consumers. In my opinion, we need to do our part by financially “motivating” them to improve their product safety via boycott.

    • I think you are right. SLowly move over to Weck or some such type of canning jars. I have several hundred canning jars to replace so the thought is daunting. Thanks for sharing!

    • mpbusyb on said:

      This is a very good point. The standard one-use lid producers will not be motivated to change anything or prove anything until they feel a significant deficit in their wallets. That means a huge portion of the public would have to buy alternative products which I think unlikely to happen anytime reasonably soon. Ugh, the cost of Weck. I too believe that if these standard companies switch the BPA, it will be to BPS, and they will be even less interested in testing for toxic leaching with a relatively unknown substance, not unless the public is well-informed and refuses the new lids until they can be reassured to BPS’s “safety”, if there is any.

      I buy my lids from Lehman’s in bulk because I go through so many. Does anyone know who makes them?

  10. Leahmea on said:

    Here’s a thought: Have you ever heard of a way to strip the BPA from the lids? My understanding is that the purpose of BPA is non-stickyness. Perhaps there’s a way to “pre-leach” the BPA from the lids prior to use? I wouldn’t mind if my lids weren’t nonstick if it meant no (or at least significantly less) BPA. I believe acidity and heat promote BPA leaching. What do you think about attempting to strip the BPA by boiling lids in a vinegar solution?

  11. Word to the wise, the Tattler BPA-Free lids are a type of “plastic”, and yes, they do contain formaldehyde. (which is used in embalming). Despite them claiming “oh it’s safe” unless you reach over 400 degrees F, I am skeptical. Doesn’t this claim sound pretty familiar to the non-stick coating claims for cookware that we know is toxic either way?

    I personally own Weck jars. All glass jar and lid that are reusable indefinitely which is better for the environment than pitching lids all the time with Ball jars, Weck jars are better looking, as pure as you can get (it’s glass!), and you don’t have to have a PHD in chemistry to understand what the heck it’s made of and if it’s safe. (it’s glass!) I definitely recommend Weck jars.

    Here is Tattler’s website admitting their lids contain formaldehyde. You can be the judge whether you believe it’s safe or not, but I’m not believing or risking my health or my family’s. Glass is proven safe, why take a chance:
    http://www.reusablecanninglids.com/BpaFree.aspx

  12. I have just bought a canner a few months ago and once we move I hope to get stuck into canning. I was planning to buy a heap of Ball jars until I too discovered the BPA issue and after reading further I decided that apart from very pricey Quattro Stagioni jars (not sure on spelling) which I believe are safe, the only other jars I could find that I already have a huge stash of are Fowlers Vacola jars. The FV preserving system is a waterbath system that became very common in Australia in the early part of the 20th century and they are seeing a resurgence. The lids come in either a standard or stainless steel lid (I always buy SS) which are fitted with a rubber ring and a clip on top to hold the lid in place whilst the seal is formed. 48 hours after cooling (give or take) the clips can be removed and the jars stored. The FV jars can be used in a pressure canner too and although they are a little fiddlier than just fitting on the lid, they are BPA free and the lids, clips and rings are relatively inexpensive here in Australia. The jars can be found either new, second hand or if you’re really lucky, in op shops. Not sure how you’d go with shipping to your neck of the woods but might be worth looking into for niggle-free home preserved food.

    • Thanks for the info. I had only ever heard of the weck jars and lids. I did buy 6 of them ($9 each) and they are beautiful, but fiddley too. Glass lids with clips. I’ll check out your suggestions! Thanks.

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