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.