Millions of families regularly enjoy a box of macaroni and cheese. This convenient food is ready to eat in minutes thanks to its cheese powder, and children everywhere love it. However, a new study is calling into question the safety of that mac and cheese and other products. The study was ordered by environmental groups that wanted to test for the presence of phthalates in macaroni and cheese products. Thirty mac and cheese products were tested, and most of them were manufactured by Kraft.
Researchers were looking for the presence of 13 phthalates. All but two were discovered in nearly every product. Only one was found not to include phthalates. These chemicals are believed to have been introduced to the cheese powder from manufacturing equipment or through product packaging. As a spokesperson for Kraft asserted in response, phthalates are not deliberately added to mac and cheese or other foods. The spokesperson also said that the amount of phthalates detected is well below the legal limit established by the FDA.
Phthalates are chemicals that have multiple applications. Ink and adhesive on packaging frequently include them, and they are widely used as solvents or as a means to soften plastic. Their use as a plastic softener once made them a favorite ingredient in many children’s toys. However, most forms of these chemicals have been banned from toy manufacturing for at least a decade. This does not mean that phthalates are not found in several places in the home. Hair spray, laundry detergent and various soaps all may contain these chemicals.
As the recent study concluded, phthalates also are found in many common food products. This may present a problem as other studies have concluded that there may be a link between exposure and genital birth defects in boys. The chemicals also may disrupt testosterone production, which can lead to a host of problems later in life such as infertility and the increased risk of testicular cancer. Other studies have discovered that young children and pregnant women may be especially vulnerable to phthalate exposure.
While phthalates may be found in many places, it is possible to limit exposure. Eating fewer highly processed foods is a good place to start. Focus on a diet of fresh fruits and vegetables that includes other whole foods and dishes that are made from scratch. Opt for low-fat dairy products as these are known to include fewer phthalates because of the chemical’s tendency to bind with higher fat foods. Store foods in glass, stainless steel or ceramic containers instead of plastic. Additionally, avoid products like cosmetics, moisturizers and detergents with artificial fragrances as these frequently contain phthalates. Limiting your family’s exposure may mean a brighter, healthier future.