Lately I've been reading more from Consumer Reports and the Environmental Working Group about canned food and the chemical BPA. Canned food seems to be the leading cause of BPA exposure in Americans. BPA, which causes problems with the reproductive systems, is used in the lining of the cans and leaches into the food. It is recommended that children and pregnant women limit consumption of canned foods as a result. It seems to me that the recommendation should go for everyone, but it is always safer to play the "women and children" card in these situations.
So what does that mean in my kitchen. Honestly we don't eat that much canned food. Canned tomato products top the list, followed by occasional use of canned beans, soup, and tuna, and then very occasional use of specialty items like cocout milk, refried beans, and artichoke hearts.
The canned tomato products really only have two alternatives. I have some frozen that I processed this summer. Plastic freezer containers are BPA-free. These are only goingto get us so far (I'm Italian-American and we like chilli and tomato-based vegetable soups, so we use a lot of tomato products). There is also an increasingly easy to find Italian brand of tomato products called Pomi. They come in tetra paks (the rectangles) which are BPA-free. The tomatoes are much tastier than what comes out of a can and completely free of additives, unlike the canned varieties. I've hesitated to make regular use of them in the past for environmental reasons. The packaging is not widely recyclable and they are shipped from Italy. Given what I've been reading about BPA though, the health of the family is going to win out over environmental concerns here.
Pre-made soups can increasingly be found in tetra packs as well.
Beans. For a few years now I've been cutting back on our use of canned beans. I like the flavor of the dried beans better, and they can be cooked and then frozen. So what I do when I need beans of a particular type is cook the entire bag, and then freeze whatever I'm not going to use that day in 2-cup containers. I still use canned beans in a pinch, but I imagine if I simply stop buying them, I'll learn to do without them.
Canned tuna is a complicated one. There are reasons not to eat it anyway - fishing practices and mercury exposure. There are days though when a tuna sandwhich is just so tasty and easy though, and we don't eat it very often. I've noticed a few brands of tuna now being sold in plastic packages. I'm going to check these out, but I have lots of questions, like whether or not the packaging is recyclable.
This leaves us with the specialty, once-in-a-great-while items. I could just argue that if it is really once in awhile, then it's alright, and for some of these things, like coconut milk, I will probably take that route, at least for now. Other items on my list do have alternatives. Refried beans really aren't hard to make, I've always just been a bit lazy here. (Plus the sodium content in the canned versions are mildly alarming.) I recently read that artichoke hearts are available frozen. After a bit of searching at Stop and Shop, I found them. They are so much better than the canned varieties. They taste much more like fresh artichokes and have no tinny taste.
So that's where we are at. Dropping canned food from my grocery list might seem a bit extreme, but it really does seem like the right decision for the sake of my family's health. Eventually the alternatives should become habit just as buying canned tomatoes and beans is currently done out of habit.