Plastic for Dinner? Food Safety Bill to Leave BPA on Your Table

Have a BPA-free Thanksgiving: The chemical industry blocked efforts to ban a toxic chemical from food containers, but you can still keep BPA out of your kitchen.

November 22, 2010

Canned pumpkin could put BPA puree in your pie. But there are alternatives.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Last week, the Senate voted to move forward with the Food Safety and Modernization Act and finally protect our nation's food supply. There were definitely good things about the bill, which has been languishing in the halls of Congress for more than a year. "The Tester Amendment was agreed to by the bill's sponsors, and we signed off on the final language, which should ensure it's passage," says Ferd Heofner, policy director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, referring to the amendment designed to protect small, organic farmers. "We're very pleased, and we feel the modifications made to the amendment are changes we can live with." The final version of the amendment exempts farmers who make less than $500,000 per year and sell their products within 275 miles of their farms (not the 400 miles that the amendment had previously proposed) from burdensome and costly paperwork requirements.


But there was also bad news. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) lost her battle to ban the toxic chemical bisphenol A from food containers, baby bottles, and sippy cups, after the American Chemistry Council and the Grocery Manufacturer's Association made it clear they would work to defeat the entire bill if her amendment were included.

While many large manufacturers of baby bottles, and the retailers who sell them, have already instituted voluntary bans on the chemical, this news doesn't bode well for adults. BPA is used in the linings of nearly all canned foods, and a recent study in Environmental Science & Technology found BPA in 60 percent of the food tested, including turkey!

While it's unclear where the BPA in turkey came from in that study, you can take steps to keep your Thanksgiving BPA-free by eliminating cans from your meal plan. Here are a few recipes that will help:

• BPA-free pumpkin pie. Many holiday pie recipes call for canned pumpkin puree and condensed (or evaporated) milk. But as Maria Rodale's pumpkin pie recipe shows, you easily can roast your own pumpkin instead of buying canned. Check out these pumpkin-roasting tips for more suggestions. The process takes about an hour and the pureed pumpkin will keep for up to 5 days in your fridge. While it's roasting, make your own sweetened condensed milk using this recipe from's Nickel Pincher Jean Nick—not only is her recipe BPA-free, but it's also organic (organic canned condensed milk isn't easy to find).

Put 6 cups of organic whole milk in a heavy stainless steel saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in 5 tablespoons of organic sugar and continue simmering for 10 to 15 minutes, or until you have about 3 cups left. Strain. Condensed milk can be refrigerated for up to one week.

If you're in a rush, Nick suggests using dry milk (Organic Valley makes an organic dry milk powder that should be available at your local natural food store). Heat 1/3 cup water to almost boiling. Combine 2/3 cup organic sugar, 1 cup dry milk powder, and 3 tablespoons organic butter in a small bowl, pour the hot water over it and whisk until blended. Use right away.

If both of those are beyond your culinary interests, try making pumpkin butter pie. Follow a standard pumpkin pie recipe, but substitute pumpkin butter (normally sold in glass jars, and thus BPA-free) for the puree, and heavy cream for the condensed milk. Omit any added sweeteners, as pumpkin butter is usually sweetened already.

• Can-less cranberry recipes. Making can-free cranberry sauce from organic cranberries is easy enough—just cover cranberries in a pot with water, bring to a boil, and simmer until they're soft enough to mash, then add sugar to your liking. But if you want to get creative with your sauce, try this recipe for Cranberry Relish or Maria Rodale's recipe for Cranberry Sauce.

• Alternative green bean casseroles. Interestingly, both the recent Environmental Science & Technology study and a year-old analysis from Consumer Reports found that canned green beans had the highest levels of BPA of any product tested. The Consumer Reports analysis also found BPA in frozen green beans. So go for fresh green beans if you can find them. If you can't, consider an alternative vegetable this year, like this recipe for Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Crispy Shallots from Organic Gardening magazine.

• Buy boxed stock. Cooking wild rice in chicken stock, or adding it to your mashed potatoes, is a good way to add flavor. If you don't have time to make your own stock for recipes, pass the canned stuff by and look for stocks sold in aseptic cartons, such as the organic versions sold by Pacific Natural Foods or Imagine Organic. The cartons don't contain BPA, and they're recyclable in some areas (if your town recycles milk and juice cartons, they will also accept aseptic packaging).