Posts Tagged ‘BPA’

What is in Our Food?

Author: Paul

The Consumer Union has been in the news a couple times in the last couple of weeks. Just before Halloween the CU filed a petition with the FDA requesting that the governmental organization ban the practice of feeding chicken feces and basically anything else found on the floor of large chicken operations to beef cattle. This is a common practice in CAFOs, and of course affirmed as a safe practice by the beef industry. Interestingly enough, McDonalds the largest beef purchaser in the world is in support of the ban.

The CU also made recent headlines with a report that will be published in their December issue that tested for Bisphenol A in common food products. All 19 products tested showed BPA contamination at various levels. This is really not groundbreaking news as the many other studies have shown that BPA from food packaging leaches into food. The Environmental Working Group’s 2007 report on BPA showed baby formula had some of the highest levels tested.

With the release of the Consumers Union report, the industry in question is again stating that the results are flawed, and that their own testing and other reports show that BPA is harmless to humans. This, despite numerous other reports showing harmful effects of BPA, and support of the CU report from organizations such as the Breast Cancer Fund, Clean Water Action, Clean New York, Center for Health, Environment & Justice, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Oregon Toxics Alliance and other environmental health advocates.

Regardless of what studies one believes, the fact remains that there is some weird stuff in our food. Food packaging liners that are supposed to keep things out of our packaged food are leaching BPA into the food. Cows that are supposed to eat grass, are eating chicken poop and feathers. These are the facts, no one is debating them. Yet somehow the debate is on whether these things are harmful to humans and not on why they are in our food. A man made chemical is found in almost every packaged food on stores shelves (and restaurant kitchens). Beef is being created with chicken poop and the scrapings of the coop. This is just not a healthy, safe or sustainable option.

So, what are restaurants to do? Take the advice of sustainable food and agricultural advocate Wendell Berry:

•Participate in food production

•Prepare your own food

•Know the origins

•Deal direct

•Learn about industrial food production, agriculture, food   species

It basically comes down to the root of a sustainable foodservice operation; preparing fresh, local and sustainable food. Opening a can of product produced by an unknown company with ingredients from unknown producers places too much responsibility in the hands of others. Products made in-house from fresh ingredients sourced from producers known by name have an inherent pride and responsibility for quality and safety in them. Pride and a sense of responsibility create good food. Good food creates repeat customers…

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About a week ago I posted an article in the news section of sustainablefoodservice.com about bisphenol-A (commonly known as BPA) being found on point-of-sales receipts – mainly thermal receipts that are wildly used across the foodservice industry. I’ve posted a number of other articles on the hormone disrupting chemical before – generally about its contamination of food from aluminum cans, food packaging and water bottles. I knew thermal receipts contained BPA, but I thought it was just a chemical in the paper itself. Something they use to make it thermal, but nothing that would leach out and potentially harm the user.

The BPA is what helps makes the paper thermal, but instead of being mixed in with the paper fibers it is more of a coating on the paper. The author of the report notes that the average sized receipt paper contains 60-100 milligrams of BPA while a polycarbonate water bottle leaches a few nanongrams. This equates to roughly a million times more “free” BPA on receipt papers than what could leak out of a aluminum can or plastic bottle. The “free” part refers to the fact that the chemical is able to move about because it is a coating. Unlike in the plastic coating of aluminum cans, this chemical is not bound to any other material. Therefore it can transfer onto a person’s hands, into their body or the rest of the world. The average person may touch a receipt a couple times a day, but foodservice workers touch hundreds every day, wiping a tiny bit of BPA onto their hands each time.

This really got me thinking about the chemicals service industry workers are exposed to on a daily basis. You may think a little BPA on your fingers is no big deal, but think about all the line cooks grabbing tickets out of the printer, and then grabbing a handful of lettuce to make the salad on the ticket – over and over with each and every order. I’m sure we’re talking about micrograms of the chemical being transferred each time, but more scientists are claiming that even a few parts per trillion can affect a person – well under what the FDA (read chemical industry) says is safe. The bigger picture I’m seeing is the constant toxic chemical exposure to foodservice workers. Cleaners, dishwashing chemicals, Teflon, butter flavoring, and now BPA; microgram by microgram, service industry workers are being poisoned by these chemicals.

I personally realized this type of exposure when I was managing a couple restaurants full time. I ate at least two meals a day in the restaurants, and soon grew sensitive to the smell and taste of dishwasher rinse aid. Its one of those tastes you know instantly. I could tell when someone else brought me a glass of water because they hadn’t rinsed it out like I always did. I often thought about how much of that chemical I and everyone else in the industry had ingested over the years drinking almost every drink, and eating most meals from dishes that came out of a commercial dishwasher. It’s basically death by a thousand cuts, or cancer by a thousand drops of rinse aid.

So what does one in the industry do to avoid the chemical bombardment? Switching to green cleaners is good start. It is something you can control, and most green cleaners are considered cost neutral. With the rinse aid issue, the only answer I have is to rinse your glasses before you drink out of them. Really hot dishwasher water seems to help a bit. I’m curious as to people’s experience with high-temp machines and chemical residue on dishes.

As for the BPA, for the health of ourselves and our customers I think the industry needs to start demanding BPA free products whether thermal paper, aluminum cans, plastic pint glasses or whatever else its in. The foodservice industry is a huge consumer of goods with a million restaurants strong. We have a lot of sway on these issues, and should use our buying power to influence the manufacturing and food production industry using these toxic chemicals.

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