2013-2014 Bisphenol A in Canned Foods

Executive Summary

Targeted surveys are used by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to focus its surveillance activities on areas of highest risk. The information gained from these surveys provides both support for the prioritization of the Agency's activities to areas of greater concern and scientific evidence to address areas of lesser concern. Originally started under the Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP), targeted surveys have been incorporated into the CFIA's regular surveillance activities as a valuable tool for generating essential information on certain hazards in foods, identifying/characterizing new and emerging hazards, informing trend analysis, prompting/refining human health risk assessments, assessing compliance with Canadian regulations, highlighting potential contamination issues, and promoting compliance.

The main objectives of this targeted survey were:

  • to provide baseline data on the presence and levels of bisphenol A (BPA) in canned vegetables, fruits, juices/beverages, soft/energy/sports drinks, infant formula, pastas, soups, pie fillings, coconut milks, and curry sauces/products available on the Canadian retail market; and
  • to compare the prevalence of the levels of BPA found in this survey with other Canadian and international data, where feasible.

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used in the production of polycarbonate and epoxy resins. Food and beverage packaging, particularly metal cans, may be internally coated with epoxy resins to protect food from direct contact with metal. BPA can migrate from the epoxy coatings into food, particularly at elevated temperatures (e.g., in hot-filled or heat-processed canned foods). Elevated BPA concentrations have been associated with food products contained in syrups, sauces (i.e., tomato sauce), and salted water.

Health Canada's Food Directorate has concluded that the current dietary exposure to BPA through food packaging is not expected to pose a health risk to the general population, including newborns and young children. This conclusion has been re-affirmed by other international food regulatory agencies, including those of Canada's major trading partners. As a result, the use of BPA in food packaging materials has not been prohibited in Canada. Health Canada has recommended that the general principle of ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable) be applied by food packaging manufacturers and food processors to limit dietary BPA exposure from food packaging, particularly for products consumed by infants and newborns. In this regard, Health Canada's Food Directorate found that BPA is generally not detectable in canned powdered infant formula products available for sale in Canada and in December 2014 (subsequent to collection of the samples analyzed for the current survey), Health Canada confirmed that major manufacturers of infant formula had phased out the use of BPA-containing packaging for liquid infant formula.

A total of 391 domestic and imported samples were collected and analyzed in the 2013-2014 BPA targeted survey. Samples included 93 pastas/soups, 70 vegetables, 55 infant formula samples, 54 juices/beverages, 43 ready-to-consume energy/sports/soft drinks, 38 fruit products, 20 pie fillings, 13 coconut milks, and 5 curry products. Only canned products were sampled, as these products are likely to have epoxy coatings. Bisphenol A was not detected in 35.5% of the survey samples. The level of detection for all samples ranged from 0.001 ppm (found in a tropical fruit salad sample) to 0.565 ppm (detected in a single corn sample).

The current FSAP survey had similar detection rates of BPA in the commodities sampled in comparison to the previous FSAP surveys, international studies, and the NCRMP data. Overall, the results of the current targeted survey are similar to previous FSAP surveys, other Canadian studies, and international data.

There are no Canadian regulations or maximum levels (tolerances or standards) for BPA in foods sold in Canada, so compliance to a numerical standard could not be assessed. Health Canada's Bureau of Chemical Safety determined that none of the samples analyzed for BPA in this survey posed a concern to human health and therefore no product recalls were warranted.

The CFIA will continue its surveillance activities and inform the Canadian public and stakeholders of its findings.

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