What Is BPA and Is It Safe?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 05, 2023
3 min read

If you've ever been told by a well-meaning friend that you should avoid food from cans, it probably stems from fears about a chemical called bisphenol A, or BPA for short. The chief worry is that the stuff might get into your body and do you some harm. There's been a lot of debate about its safety, but the FDA has made its view clear: There's no risk to your health in the amounts you get in your diet.

Still, lots of folks still have some nagging doubts. Some of the concern dates back to a 2008 CDC study that showed 92% of U.S. adults had signs of BPA in their urine. Alarm bells went off around the country. How did it get into our bodies, and what if anything should be done?

Learn what the science has to say about this chemical, and what you can do to limit your contact if you have any concerns.

It's a chemical that's sometimes in the hard, clear plastic of food containers and water bottles. BPA is also used in a material called epoxy resin, which lines the inside of some metal food and drink cans. You may also find it in some medical devices, dental sealants, and compact discs.

For a time, BPA was used in lots of products. But in 2010, when safety concerns started making headlines, the FDA asked makers of baby bottles, sippy cups, and infant formula cans to stop using the chemical. So it's unlikely you have any baby items with BPA any more.

Makers of many other water bottles and containers have voluntarily stopped using BPA as well. So while you may have had many products containing the chemical in your house a few decades ago, it's much less likely now.

When the chemical is in a can or plastic bottle, it can get into the food or drink in the container and move into your body when you swallow it.

People became worried about BPA safety because of animal studies that showed a link between high levels of the chemical and infertility, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

In 2014, the FDA wrapped up a 4-year review of BPA and put some worries to rest. The agency says it's safe in the levels that now get into your food.

The FDA says there are a number of recent studies that downplay the risks of BPA to humans. For example, a lot of earlier research was done on the effects of the chemical on mice. But a more recent study concludes that people break down BPA in their bodies faster than mice, so the results from animal research might not be relevant to us.

Also, researchers found that your body converts BPA to an inactive form if you get it into your body with food, unlike when it's injected directly, which is done in research animals.

Still want to play it super safe? There are a few easy steps to take to help you avoid BPA:

Don't microwave plastic food containers. Heat can make them break down over time and release BPA.

Look for recycle codes on the bottom of food containers. Those with a 3 or 7 often (but not always) have BPA in them.

Reduce your use of canned foods. Most have BPA in the lining.

Use glass, porcelain, or stainless steel containers, especially for hot food or liquids. Recent research has raised questions about whether BPA-free plastics, which tend to use similar chemicals called BPS and BPF, are really any safer.