Food Packaging Study (2011)

Families like the Laurlunds were asked to give up canned food, food packaged in plastic, and restaurant meals for three days. When study families switched to the fresh food diet, their levels of the hormone disruptors BPA and DEHP dropped by half.

Food Packaging Study (2011)

Silent Spring Institute researchers teamed up with the Breast Cancer Fund to investigate whether people’s body burdens of two hormone disrupting chemicals—bisphenol A, or BPA, and the phthalate DEHP—could be reduced by switching to a fresh food diet that avoids canned food and plastic food packaging. BPA, which appears in the lining of food cans, has been linked in laboratory studies to breast and prostate cancer and the development of neurological disorders. DEHP, which is found in some plastic food containers and plastic wraps, has been shown to affect male reproductive development.

For three days the study participants—five families in California, each with two adults and two children—ate freshly prepared food that was free of contact with cans and had only minimal contact with plastic packaging. During that time, the participants’ urine levels of both BPA and DEHP fell by over half. The highest exposure levels dropped even more: about 75 percent for BPA and 95 percent for DEHP.

Principal Findings

  • Food packaging is the major source of exposure to BPA and DEHP in children and adults.
  • The adoption of a fresh-food diet can, within just three days, significantly reduce the body’s burden of BPA and DEHP, compounds that have been linked to developmental and reproductive harm.

Major Implications

  • People can dramatically decrease their levels of BPA and DEHP by lowering consumption of foods and beverages that come in cans, storing food in stainless steel and glass containers, eating fresh foods, microwaving in glass and ceramic containers rather than plastic ones, and avoiding restaurants.
  • Removing BPA from food packaging would remove the leading source of BPA exposure. While we can take steps to reduce our individual exposure levels, ultimately manufacturers and government are responsible for ensuring the safety of  food packaging. The researchers hope the study will serve as a wake-up call; already the study has contributed to a ban on BPA in food packaging in France, supported U.S. advocacy efforts, and influenced manufacturers and grocery chains to seek alternatives.

Notable Quote

“Our results will inform manufacturers and green chemists who are trying to develop safer products, advocates who are calling for smarter chemicals policies, and individuals who want to take steps to reduce their exposures.”
—Julia Brody, PhD, an author of the study and executive director of Silent Spring Institute

“The study should serve as a wake-up call to industry and government to enact big-picture solutions that eliminate harmful chemicals from food packaging and protect public health.”
—Connie Engel, PhD, program coordinator at the Breast Cancer Fund, which is leading a national effort to eliminate BPA from food packaging

Research Support

  • Passport Foundation
  • Susan S. Bailis Breast Cancer Research Fund at Silent Spring Institute

Learn More

Rudel RA, Gray JM, Engel CL, Rawsthorne TW, Dodson RE, Ackerman JM, Rizzo J, Nudelman JL, Brody JG. 2011. Food packaging and bisphenol A and bis(2-ethyhexyl) phthalate exposure: Findings from a dietary intervention. Environmental Health Perspectives, 119:914–20. doi:10.1289/ehp.1003170

Downloadable Tipsheet

6 Simple Steps to Avoid BPA and Phthalates in Food