The first peer-reviewed study to look at bisphenol A in U.S. fresh food, canned food, and food in plastic packaging was published this week, adding some solid science to a discussion that has become increasingly emotional.

The study, published online in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, measured BPA levels in 105 fresh and canned foods, and foods sold in plastic packaging, as well as in cat and dog foods in cans and plastic packaging.  BPA was detected in 63 samples, all of which were collected from food found in Dallas, Texas grocery stores in March 2010.

Of all the positive samples, however, only Del Monte fresh cut canned green beans and Progresso Light Homestyle Vegetable and Rice Soup contained BPA levels high enough to be of concern based on consumption estimates.

 “These levels exceed the temporary [Total Daily Intake] proposed by the European Commission Scientific Committee on Food Safety… but are lower than the U.S. EPA and EFSA reference dose/TDI,” explains the report. 

According to the study’s authors, the levels found were comparable to those reported in studies conducted in other countries, but further research and a larger sample size is needed to draw broader conclusions about BPA’s presence in the U.S. food supply.

BPA, a chemical found in epoxy resins used in a variety of food containers–including baby bottles, water bottles, food storage containers, and can linings–has become a hot button regulatory issue.  A growing body of scientific evidence raises concerns about whether long term, low-level exposure causes human health problems.  In rodents, BPA has been associated with early sexual maturation, altered behavior, and effects on prostate and mammary glands.

“In humans, BPA is associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and male sexual dysfunction in exposed workers,” according to the study’s authors. “Food is a major exposure source.”  The report also lists bathing and drinking water, printer paper, and flame retardants as environmental routes of exposure.

“BPA is thought to be present in 95 percent of the U.S. population, with higher levels in infants and children than in adults,” continues the report. “Currently, there are no U.S. regulations or limitations pertaining to the amount of BPA in food or drink.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to make a final decision on whether low level exposure to BPA is a threat to public health, though it did announce in January that it has “some concern” about the chemical.

After re-reviewing the science, the European Food Safety Authority last month decided to keep its current BPA limits in place, concluding that there is no new evidence to back  lowering the current daily tolerable intake. 

The U.S. food study was published by researchers at the University of Texas School of Public Health, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Eurofins Gfa GmbH Laboratory in Germany, and the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. The abstract and full text can be downloaded here