(Un)Happy Macaroni and Cheese Day: Toxic Chemicals Discovered in 10 Varieties of Macaroni and Cheese Powders
Kraft Heinz Urged to Lead Industry-Wide Change
On those evenings when time is tight and the cupboard is uninspiring, parents and babysitters across the country know they can rely on good old macaroni and cheese for a crowd-pleasing kids’ meal.
But new tests raise questions about this popular comfort food. Toxic industrial chemicals were discovered in individual packets of cheese powder from several companies’ macaroni and cheese products, announced the Coalition for Safer Food Processing & Packaging—of which the Environmental Health Strategy Center is a leading member—on the eve of Macaroni and Cheese Day, July 14.
The coalition, which commissioned the tests, is launching a campaign calling on mac n’ cheese market leader The Kraft Heinz Company to lead industry-wide change by eliminating sources of these industrial chemicals in its cheese products.
“Serving up one of America’s favorite comfort foods shouldn’t mean exposing your children and family to harmful chemicals,” said Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, a coalition member. “Our test results underscore the need for industry to comprehensively test their products for phthalates and determine the steps needed to eliminate them.”
These particular chemicals, known as phthalates (THAL-eights), are industrial chemicals commonly added to plastics, rubber, adhesives, inks, and coatings, and have been shown to migrate into food products during food processing, packaging, and preparation.
Phthalates are hormone disruptors linked to developmental problems, altered thyroid function, and a genital condition in baby boys associated with increased risk of reproductive health problems
“Studies repeatedly show that these endocrine-disruptors may harm developing brains,” explained Charlotte Brody, RN, National Director of Healthy Babies Bright Futures, a coalition member. “Scientists say there are no known safe levels of phthalates for vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women and young children.”
For the study, the coalition contracted with an independent laboratory experienced in the testing of phthalates in food to test 30 items of individual cheese products from various manufacturers that were purchased at retail grocery stores in the United States and shipped to the lab, unopened, in their original packaging. The cheese product items tested included nine of Kraft’s many cheese products. Findings revealed:
- Phthalates in nearly every cheese product tested (29 of 30 items tested), with 10 different phthalates identified and up to six found in a single product.
- Phthalates in eight of the nine Kraft cheese product items tested.
- Toxic chemical phthalates at levels on average more than four times higher, on a fat basis, in macaroni and cheese powder than in hard cheese blocks and other natural cheese.
- DEHP, the most widely banned phthalate around the world, in all 10 macaroni and cheese powders. DEHP accounted for nearly 60 percent of all phthalates found in the cheese product items that were tested.
Scientists agree that for most people the greatest exposure to phthalates comes from the food we eat.
Federal scientists reported this year that up to 725,000 American women of childbearing age may be exposed daily to phthalates at levels that threaten the healthy development of their babies, should they become pregnant.
The Coalition for Safer Food Processing & Packaging has requested that Kraft identify and eliminate any sources of phthalates in the production of its cheese products, and use its leadership position to change the industry. Kraft has agreed to review the test results.
Kraft has been an industry leader on similar issues before, announcing a phase-out of artificial food dyes and preservatives in its macaroni and cheese in 2015, in response to scientific and consumer concerns.
“The good news is that there are safer, affordable alternatives to phthalates,” said Mike Schade, Mind the Store Campaign Director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a coalition member. “Kraft should identify and eliminate any phthalates in its cheese products by ensuring that safer alternatives are used in food processing and packaging materials throughout its supply chain.”
ABOUT THE COALITION FOR SAFER FOOD PROCESSING & PACKAGING
The Coalition for Safer Food Processing & Packaging is a national coalition of nonprofit organizations concerned about human health, food safety, and social justice who are working together to persuade major food manufacturers to identify and eliminate phthalates and other chemicals of high concern from the American food supply.