Nationwide Testing Shows Many Canned Foods Still Contain Chemical Linked to Cancer, Birth Defects

Media Contacts
Emily Scarr

State Director, Maryland PIRG; Director, Stop Toxic PFAS Campaign, PIRG

Products from Baltimore included in report showing that many canned foods still contain BPA

Maryland PIRG Foundation

Baltimore, MD- Despite well-documented health hazards and years of scientific warnings, a new report, Kicking the Can? Major retailers still selling canned food with BPA, released today shows that millions of Americans who eat canned foods are still being exposed to the toxic chemical bisphenol A (BPA). The report, including cans purchased by the Maryland PIRG Foundation from Safeway in Baltimore, details testing on more than 250 canned foods, finding that nearly 40% of cans contain BPA, a chemical that is known to cause birth defects and has been linked to breast cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease and other serious health problems. The testing also found some cans lined with a toxic substitute, PVC plastic.

“We shouldn’t have to worry that everyday products like canned food can put our health at risk,” said Maryland PIRG Foundation Director Emily Scarr. “In the absence of strong regulations, retailers should step up and safely substitute BPA from all food packaging.”

Cans were purchased between January and April of this year, from eleven states: California, Massachusetts, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Virginia. The majority of the cans were purchased from four national retailers: Kroger, Albertsons/Safeway, Dollar Tree and 99 Cents Only.

The report compares its 2017 findings with testing on canned foods that were purchased in 2015 and reported on in last year’s Buyer Beware report released by Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, the Campaign for Healthier Solutions, Clean Production Action, Ecology Center, and the Mind the Store Campaign. Findings from the new report show:

  • Nearly 40% of the cans tested used BPA-containing linings. While this is down from the 2015 report, which showed 67% of cans with BPA, CEH warns that the threat of exposure to BPA from canned food remains high.
  • The contents from four cans that tested positive for BPA were tested by an independent lab for BPA contamination; all four tested positive for BPA in the food.
  • The two largest grocery chains in the country, Kroger and Albertsons/Safeway, continue to still sell canned food lined with toxic BPA.  36% of Albertsons’, and 33% of Kroger’s “private label” food cans tested positive for this harmful chemical.  
  • Cans purchased from certain dollar stores were more likely to contain BPA, a particular concern for low-income communities where canned food from the local dollar store is often the most convenient and affordable option. Studies show that people in these communities have, on average, higher levels of BPA in their bodies than the rest of the population.
  • While some companies are moving away from BPA in their canned foods, there inadequate safety information on the materials they are using to replace BPA. 19% of the cans tested use linings containing PVC, a toxic substitute. Other substitute linings found by CEH include materials that have not been adequately evaluated for safety.

BPA is an endocrine disrupting chemical (EDC) that can alter the body’s natural hormones and cause serious health problems. Scientists say that tiny amounts of EDCs can affect the body, especially when people are exposed at critical developmental stages, such as during fetal development or puberty. Pregnant women and the developing fetus, children and teens may be most at risk from exposures to BPA from canned foods. In California, state scientists in 2015 unanimously agreed that BPA should be added to the state’s list of chemicals known to cause birth defects. 

Over the past year, pressure has been growing on the nation’s largest grocery and dollar stores to eliminate and safely substitute toxic BPA. Advocates with the Mind the Store campaign delivered over 120,000 petitions Albertsons at their corporate headquarters.

Maryland PIRG has joined the The Mind the Store Campaign and Campaign for Healthier Solutions, challenging the nation’s top retailers and dollar stores to phase out harmful chemicals.  In response to consumer demand, major retailers have recently announced policies to eliminate toxic chemicals from other products. Just last month, the national drugstore chain CVS announced it would eliminate harmful chemicals from its store brand cosmetics.  In January, Target announced a new policy to drive harmful chemicals out of apparel, beauty, personal care, and cleaning products.


“These companies have known for years that BPA is a serious health threat, yet too many of their food cans still contain this dangerous chemical,” said Caroline Cox, Research Director at CEH. “Americans deserve safe food for their children and families. It is past time for grocery retailers and dollar stores to end this health threat and develop safer alternatives for canned foods.”

“Across the nation, our health and our environment are under attack. Now more than ever, we need dollar stores to reduce our exposure to toxic chemicals found in some food containers and household items they sell. Often, the only place for people of color and low-income communities to shop is at these discount retailers. It’s time for all retailers to double down and protect the most vulnerable – and especially the dollar stores,” said José T. Bravo, Coordinator of the Campaign for Healthier Solutions.

“The nation’s two largest grocery chains, Kroger and Albertsons, have the power to drive toxic BPA out of food packaging and safeguard our health,” said Mike Schade, Mind the Store Campaign Director for Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.  “While this new report shows that some progress had been made, it underscores the need for retailers to commit to completely phase out BPA, ensure substitutes are safe, and develop systemic safer chemical policies.”

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The Maryland PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Foundation is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety, or well-being.