Home Canning: Pickles, Peppers, and a Dash of BPA?

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It’s home canning season, and by some indications a lot more Americans are joining in on the pickle-packing fun. If you’re one of them, you ought to know that your plastic-lined canning lids probably contain bisphenol A, the endocrine-disrupting chemical that’s been suspected in a host of health problems and is under intensive scrutiny by the slow-moving FDA.

“Canning jar lids from the brands Ball, Kerr, Golden Harvest, and Bernardin are coated with bisphenol A,” writes Organic Gardening magazine in its Winter 2009-2010 issue.

The magazine asks an endocrine-disruptor expert about the potential health hazards. “If the lid doesn’t contact the food, it’s not a problem,” says Frederick vom Saal, a biological sciences professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. But that’s unlikely to be the case, so he recommends using a BPA-free product. Organic Gardening suggests Weck brand canning jars, which have glass lids.

It’s too bad that the legions of Americans who are growing and preserving their own produce–often because they’re trying to avoid the mega-food system and eat locally and heathily–have to deal with yet another potential toxin in their diet. And while I don’t know how serious the canning-jar-lid threat is, I agree with Treehugger that Jarden Home Brands, the manufacturer of all four BPA-containing brands mentioned above, is not exactly setting a high ethical standard with its website FAQ statement falling back on highly questionable FDA studies. “Weasely words,” Treehugger calls them.

The FDA, as Utne Reader reported in August, expects to rule by November 30 on whether BPA is safe for food and beverage containers.

It’s enough work learning how to blanch and shock our vegetables and avoid the dreaded botulism. Shouldn’t we at least be able to declare our canning jars poison-free with confidence?

Sources: Reuters, Houston Chronicle, Organic Gardening, Mother Earth News, Treehugger, Jarden Home Brands

UPDATE 10/26/09: Lloyd Alter at Treehugger, who wrote about this issue in July, is conducting a test to compare BPA levels in two jars of home-canned pickles: one that’s been sloshing around in the trunk of his car and another that’s been kept upright. We’ll follow the results here on Utne.com.

Image by TheBittenWord.com, licensed under Creative Commons.

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