Steamer bag for frozen broccoli prompts research on pesky chemical

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By Gordon Allison | Technical Engineer

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GRANTSBORO – Recently my wife Patty and I bought ‘steamer bags’ containing frozen broccoli at Food Lion. Noticing that the bag was somewhat stiffer than the usual frozen vegetable bags started me to thinking!

Stiffer plastic could mean BPA (bisphenol A) was used to make it???  I made a phone call to Food Lion in Salisbury, NC, which yielded a letter from grocery supplier, MarBran USA in McAllen, TX.


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MarBran contacted their steamable bag supplier and found there was NO BPA used in the bag.

The letter went on to say that the steamer bag CANNOT be recycled. As many local consumers know, steamer bags feature vents incorporated in the bag’s manufacture so steam is released to prevent the bag from exploding.

So what is the deal with BPA?  What is bisphenol A anyway? Why am I leery of it?

It is a dye created in the 1860s. Is there a problem with BPA?  In a word, yes.  There are some experts who claim BPA is toxic and that humans should avoid it – especially pregnant women and babies.  If you consume food or drink from aluminum or steel cans, the coating on the inside is likely to be an epoxy using BPA to quicken the drying time. You say: “Well, I don’t use canned foods and drinks.  I buy fresh foods and frozen vegetables and drink from glass bottles. Doesn’t that take care of the problem?”  The answer is maybe, but most likely not.

And yes there is a move to take BPA out and instead put in substitutes known as BPF or BPS.   

In about 2012 the public became alarmed over the use of BPA to make plastics stiffer. That means baby bottles, soda bottles and other types of heavy duty water bottles – as just three examples.  In the rush to replace BPA, manufacturers used BPF and BPS – substitutes with properties that mimic BPA.

All three are known as bisphenols and, unfortunately, they have molecules that mimic estrogen, androgen, and thyroid hormones.

To illustrate the possible dangers of bisphenols, please consider this analogy: A parking space (Cell Receptor) is sized to accept a car (Estrogen) and you are driving that car looking for that space. Then another car (BPA) cuts in front of you and takes the space. Your car had a delivery to make while the other car is just taking up that space. Your car was delivering a natural hormone while the other car was not – instead, it just dropped BPA into that space, doing no good for the cell.

Manufacturers did remove BPA from products, BUT they used BPF and BPS as substitutes.  BPS is more resistant to environmental degradation. Then again, when you write your name on a credit card receipt or other gas pump or cash register receipts, the thermal paper they are printed on has BPA or BPS in the coating. Fortunately, BPS has less product in the coating than BPA ones.  But still, the thermal paper goes into recycling so recycled paper now has the BPA family of products in it.  And you don’t know which bisphenol is being used.

A recent study of paper samples from the USA, Korea, Japan and Vietnam all found BPA/F/S in such items as airline tickets, boarding passes, luggage tags, mailing envelopes, road and bridge toppings, adhesives, grout, dental restorative materials, tissue substitutes, and varnish used on electric wiring and motors.

Some of the potential problems with the bisphenol family include: increased cancer risk, lower sperm counts, lower quality embryos, more frequent miscarriages, premature deliveries, lower energy levels, influence on prostate and breast tissue, blood pressure increases, heart disease, diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, abnormal liver enzymes, worse immune function, impaired thyroid function, loss of brain cell connections, and infant asthma, among other problems.

Now, Dear Readers, you get to analyze the research!

Bisphenols tested on lab animals show the kinds of problems listed above. Human studies have been less clear. As this somewhat cynical consumer might expect, Industry-sponsored studies show no major problems with the bisphenol products.  However,  92 percent of the independent research shows significant effects.

To reduce your exposure to bisphenols, wash your hands after handling thermal printing paper.  Do not recycle any thermal printer paper.  Don’t microwave in plastic containers unless they are vegetables in Food Lion steamer bags., or an equivalent.

Check plastic products that you use. Those with a recycle code of “3″ or “7″ or the letters “PC” have a bisphenol in the material.  Use glass or ceramic containers for microwave and stove top cooking.  Protect yourself and your family!

And, enjoy your steamed broccoli!