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Natural Foods Merchandiser
Bisphenol S, a chemical that replaced Bisphenol A (BPA) in plastics used for packaging food, might not be a safe alternative, according to studies. Getty Images

Secret Shopper: How do I spot and avoid BPS?

Bisphenol S, a chemical that replaced Bisphenol A (BPA) in plastics used for packaging food, might not be a safe alternative, according to studies.

Our secret shopper visited a natural grocer on the East Coast to obtain information about BPS, which can be found in food packaging and thermal paper that is used in receipts.

Natural Foods Merchandiser: I keep hearing that BPS in plastic isn’t much safer than the BPA it replaced. Is this true, and how do I spot BPS?

Retailer: I’ve heard that too, although I don’t know the specifics about BPS. But that’s yet another reason why we limit plastics throughout the store as much as we can. I think BPA and BPS only come in certain types of plastic, but I’m not sure if you can tell just by looking at something.

NFM: I’ve also heard that BPA and BPS have been found in checkout receipts. Do yours contain them?

Retailer: Now that one I’m positive about: Our receipts do not, because we don’t use thermal paper.

How did this retailer do?

Nancy Wayne, Ph.D., reproductive endocrinologist, UCLAOur expert educator: Nancy Wayne, Ph.D., reproductive endocrinologist and professor emerita of physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine

It’s great to know retailers are more aware of the health risks of BPA and BPS in food and beverage packaging and receipts—and are changing their inventory and practices accordingly, as much as is feasible.

BPS, BPA and other bisphenols have been shown in controlled experiments using animals and cultured cells to alter normal physiology that impacts the reproductive system, embryonic and fetal development, breast and prostate cancers, and metabolism. Human studies are difficult because of the ethical considerations of controlled experiments using known or suspected toxins, but there are associations between elevated BPA in blood and urine and several pathological conditions including reproductive developmental anomalies and miscarriages.  

BPA and BPS are widely used in polycarbonate plastics and resins coating aluminum cans. Hard plastic containers are usually numbered. Those stamped No. 7 are polycarbonate and likely made with BPA, BPS or another bisphenol. Manufacturers are not required to divulge which chemicals their containers are made from, so it’s unreasonable to expect retailers to know that information.

Just remember that a “BPA-free” label does not mean it’s free from potentially harmful chemicals that leach into food and drink. As much as possible, avoid food and beverages stored in plastics and cans. Glass is best, but because plastic containers weigh significantly less, cost less to ship and aren’t as breakable, they are ubiquitous—and there is no going back. Although we cannot completely eliminate our exposure to these toxins, we can decrease our exposure. Retailers can commit to carrying more items packaged in glass.

Regarding thermal receipts, they contain BPA or BPS that can end up in the bloodstream—especially if you handle receipts shortly after cleaning your hands with liquid sanitizer. If you must handle them barehanded, do it quickly and with dry hands.

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