My first job in high school was bagging groceries at the supermarket in my neighborhood. I worked there for several years, and saw the toll that this job takes on the body.
My teammates were on their feet all day running the cash register, some with braces on both wrists from carpal tunnel syndrome. It’s physical, repetitive work, and there’s no respite when you’re pregnant. Some ladies would be stocking shelves and running the cash register while they were 8 months pregnant!
I thought of my friends when I was asked to blog about a study that found there is Bisphenol A (BPA) in thermal cash register receipt paper. (ad) Grocery store cashiers touch receipt paper all day long, and unless they wear gloves, they’re exposed to high levels of BPA.
BPA is a chemical compound that’s used to make things like water bottles, coatings on the inside of food and drink cans, and plastic plates/storage containers. It can cause reproductive disorders, is linked to heart disease and diabetes, and could cause problems with memory and learning. (source)
Some studies suggest that effects from BPA are worse for babies and kids. Their bodies are still developing and they can’t eliminate BPA through the liver as adults do. This is why you’ll see that many baby/kid products now proudly shout “BPA-free!” on their labels.
Well, phooey. Tell me about the study.
From September 2013-February 2014, 94 receipts on thermal paper were collected from 82 grocery stores in 17 states. Two environmental consulting firms analyzed them and found BPA above the sample reporting limits on 27 of the receipts.
This study focused on large national chains like HEB, Winn-Dixie, and Kroeger, but I’d imagine there are regional chains using the same paper. How many thermal cash register paper suppliers are there in the US, anyway?
The EPA considers exposures up to 50 mg/kg/day to be safe. The study found samples with reported BPA concentrations above 1,000 mg/kg in 10 Winn-Dixie stores in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.
Yikes! What should I do?
Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to stop taking receipts, or to handle them with tongs or rubber gloves. There are some easy things you can do to reduce your exposure, though.
- When you get your receipt, stick it in your wallet right away. Don’t hold it in your hand all the way to the car.
- Don’t let your kids hold the receipt, or let the baby chew on it.
- Write a letter to the CEO of the grocery-store chain you frequent, letting them know about the study and that they could be taking risks with the health of their employees.
Remember that these cautions only apply to certain thermal-paper receipts. Thermal paper is slick and discolors when rubbed with a coin (like old-school fax paper); regular paper does not. Unfortunately, you can’t determine whether there’s BPA in the receipt without sending it to a lab.
Please share this article if you know someone who works in the grocery industry!
This article was created as part of the BPA in Receipts campaign, for which I was financially compensated. The opinions are my own and based on my own experience.