Food Prep: Canned food?

When the topic of food prep (preparedness) comes up, the talk of stockpiling canned food usually comes up too. So, is it a good idea? Is it a viable option? How would/should it be done? Read on for more on this.

 

So first off, is stockpiling canned food a good idea? The short answer is, yes. The longer answer is, that it depends on many factors but it is better to have some food stockpiled than no food stockpiled. Sometimes this means going out and buying commercially-produced canned foods.

What are some pros and cons of using canned food in food preparation stockpiling? Some pros, it can be pretty cheap, pretty easy, and relatively healthy (when compared to some other options). Some cons, cans can rust, labels can fall off, and of course, canned food cans tend to have a plastic liner which can potentially leech chemicals into the food.

Let’s shoot the elephant in the room right off, plastic can liners. For decades, most canned food manufacturers used can linings made of epoxy resin based on bisphenol A, or BPA, making food the primary route of our exposure to this toxic chemical. A robust body of scientific studies shows BPA readily migrates from cans into food and that very small levels are harmful to neurological, cardiovascular, reproductive, endocrine, and other biological systems. In other words, canned food liners used to be pretty much toxic. The keywords here, are “used to be”.

Pushed by consumer concern, manufacturers have moved to replace BPA with alternative chemicals. According to the Can Manufacturers Institute, today about 95 percent of food cans are made without BPA-based linings, using a variety of other coatings, or polymers. The trade group says linings are now typically made from non-BPA acrylic or polyester epoxies, or olefin polymers. But it’s unclear whether this vague list includes all alternatives in use – and more importantly, whether they’re safer than BPA.

Studies by the National Toxicology Program and other researchers have identified the potential health impacts of some possible replacement chemicals but don’t say whether those alternatives have been commercially adopted. The studies also don’t report one-to-one substitutions of BPA for other bisphenol chemicals, such as BPS, which is widely used to coat receipt paper and which can disrupt hormones. Biomonitoring data analyzed by academic researchers and government agencies show decreases in human exposure to BPA, and increases in exposure to other bisphenols, but again, can’t say whether that trend is due to the replacement of BPA in cans with other bisphenols.

A 2016 investigation by six nonprofit groups: “Buyer Beware: Toxic BPA and regrettable substitutes in the linings of canned food” analyzed nearly 200 food cans purchased at locations across the U.S. and Canada. Analysis with an infrared spectrometer identified BPA-based epoxy resins in 67 percent of the samples. The tests also identified four major alternative coating types: acrylic resins, oleoresins, polyester resins, and PVC, or polyvinyl chloride-based, resins. Many cans contained a combination of these coating materials.

In 2017, the Center for Environmental Health, or CEH, also used infrared spectroscopy to test more than 250 canned foods from across the nation for BPA. CEH also found the chemical was still commonplace, with 38 percent of the cans containing BPA-based linings. What’s more, CEH’s second round of testing found a huge disparity in foods purchased in ethnic grocery stores, with BPA in more than 90 percent of can linings. But by 2019, follow-up tests found that 96 percent of all cans were BPA-free.

So, at least as of 2019, most canned foods on the US market did not contain BPA-based liners. However, are the replacement liners any better?

Acrylic resins have biodegradability and environmental toxicity concerns. Thirty-nine percent of the acrylic linings detected in the Buyer Beware investigation included polystyrene, which is derived from styrene, a possible human carcinogen, and an endocrine disruptor.

Polyesters may have less potential for direct human harm than other alternatives. However, this group of chemicals is toxic to aquatic life and can persist in the environment for many years.

PVC is a notoriously toxic chemical created from vinyl chloride, a known human carcinogen. The Buyer Beware coalition and CEH both found PVC-based resin was a popular alternative, discovering it in 25 percent and 19 percent of the cans, respectively.

Whole or partially plant-based oleoresins are commonly derived from trees and are often marketed as safer options. However, little is publicly known about how oleoresin mixtures are typically formulated.

These reasons, and more, is why canned food is frowned upon for food stockpiling, however, I say it is better to have some food than no food, but it is better to have home-canned food (in glass jars) than commercially-produced canned foods. The thing is, if a disaster comes along and makes obtaining food impossible for a period of time, a stockpile of canned food will come in handy. Better to not die now than to die now due to fear of some future health issues. We live in a toxic world full of toxic substances. There is no escaping the toxins, but we can limit our exposure. This is why the best bet for food stockpiling is homemade canned food in glass jars. It costs more, it requires fresh foods to be canned, and it requires a solid understanding of how to safely can, but the food will be a lot safer to consume if done right.

 

So, if you do go the route of commercially-produced canned food, how should you do it? I would personally suggest you limit the amount of canned food to a one or two-week supply and once a year, donate all of it to a local food bank and replace it with fresh canned food. This will limit your risk and also help feed the hungry in your local area. Stock canned foods that you and your family would actually eat and that would actually be prepared in a disaster situation. Avoid acidic canned food if at all possible as it is more likely to leech chemicals into the food.

Some suggestions for canned foods to stockpile:

  • Peas
  • Corn
  • Beans
  • More beans
  • Condiments
  • Even more beans
  • Dried stuff that comes in cans

Try to opt for certified organic when possible. It helps eliminate a lot of quite toxic chemicals used in agriculture, but it doesn’t make the food completely non-toxic. Organic basically means the farmer uses naturally-derived chemicals to kill pests and fertilize. “Conventional” basically means just about anything goes. Either way, whatever is used is very likely to leave residue on the eventual crop and the plant may even absorb some of it. The best option for produce is to grow it yourself so you know exactly what goes into it. The next best option is to have someone else grow it for you using the methods you approve of. The next best is certified Organic. The least best is, of course, “conventional”.

I will be covering all these methods in other posts and I will also be going into more detail about stockpiling, stock rotation, and so forth.

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