Could the chemicals in your favorite brand of macaroni and cheese be harmful to your children? According to a new study by the Coalition for Safer Food Processing and Packaging, a chemical known as phthalates found in some of the powdered cheeses used in many macaroni and cheese products, probably is.
Using 30 different cheese products, the study found phthalates in all but one. What makes mac and cheese stand out is that the average phthalate levels were over four times higher in the cheese powder they use, than in hard blocks of cheese.
According to the study, phthalates can pose a risk to small children and pregnant women, and they can also affect male hormones. They’ve been linked to genital birth defects in infant boys, as well as learning and behavioral problems in all children.
The study says that phthalates are “indirect” food additives, in that they aren’t intentionally added to food, rather they contaminate the products when they escape from “contact materials,” such as packaging.
“Phthalates tend to be found at higher levels in highly processed or fatty foods,” the study said.
The New York Times reports, “Some two million boxes of mac and cheese, a relatively inexpensive food that can be whipped up in minutes, are sold every day in the United States, according to 2013 figures.”
And you can’t shop around the problem. Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center told the Times that they believe phthalates are “in every mac and cheese product,” including the popular Kraft brand. In fact, nine of the affected cheese products were produced by Kraft.
Phthalates, which are not allowed to be present in babies’ teething toys, have been targeted by environmental and food safety groups. According to the Environmental Defense Fund’s chemicals policy director, Tom Neltner, the Food and Drug Administration has been asked to remove all phthalates from food, food packaging and food processing and manufacturing equipment.
He says that unless there’s “a reasonable certainty” a chemical won’t cause harm, it’s not allowed in food. He contends that the FDA can’t say with reasonable certainty that no harm exists.
A spokeswoman for the FDA said that the organization needs “sufficient scientific information to demonstrate that the use of a substance in food contact materials is safe under the intended conditions of use before it is authorized for those uses.”
Further research on the presence of phthalates in food is needed, the study concludes, but believes the chemical must be removed from food related products.
The FDA spokeswomen says they will continue to “monitor literature and research on these compounds as it becomes available.”
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