When I look back at how much boxed mac and cheese I consumed in college, I’m honestly sometimes surprised that my skin didn’t start to turn orange (my dorm room did smell strangely cheesy, but I can’t confirm whether that was directly related to the food). Now, it turns out that there’s a way more serious reason for us all to watch our store-bought macaroni and cheese intake.
The New York Daily News reports that the Coalition for Safer Food Processing & Packaging is alarmed by the amounts of phthalates (aka chemicals used in plastics) found in lab tests of cheese products — 8 of the 9 Kraft products they sampled contained phthalates, including the classic blue-box mac and cheese.
Phthalates aren’t ingredients intended to make their way into foods. They’re absorbed from equipment in product manufacturing facilities and packaging. There’s not much currently known about how phthalates affect human biology. According to the CDC, “Human health effects from exposure to low levels of phthalates are unknown. Some types of phthalates have affected the reproductive system of laboratory animals. More research is needed to assess the human health effects of exposure to phthalates.”
But the food safety coalition is concerned that in large numbers, phthalates could be toxic. They say that phthalates are hormone disruptors that could cause thyroid issues, reproductive problems and neurological problems in children.
Phthalates have been banned in many European countries, especially where it might come into contact with fatty foods, which can absorb more of the chemical. And many types of phthalates are banned in the U.S. in toys and child care products. Say what?!
Because of this potential danger, the food safety coalition is calling for Kraft to remove all phthalates from their products, but that could be a pretty big challenge. Under the current administration, the FDA is moving toward more deregulation rather than working to implement more stringent food packaging standards and continuing to explore the dangerous potential of many contaminants and ingredients.
Kraft recently made the news for removing all artificial dyes from their products after listening to their customers. The coalition is hoping they’ll do the same when it comes to phthalates.
In the meantime, what’s a mac and cheese-loving lady to do? If you’re like me, you’ll be brushing up on your vegan mac and cheese cooking skills.