A new study found that boxed mac and cheese made with powdered cheese contained a fourfold higher concentration of a type of harmful chemicals, phthalates, than natural cheese.
In the U.S., phthalates were banned from toys and teething rings decades ago, but they are still present in packages, cosmetics, and industrial equipment. The toxic molecules can disrupt the production of male hormones such as testosterone and have been tied to birth defects and developmental issues mostly in boys.
The main source of exposure to phthalates is food, the Consumer Product Safety Commission found three years ago. Even though the commission urged the FDA to ban it from foods too, the federal agency hasn’t taken any steps until now.
Study authors tested 30 types of cheese products, and all of them contained the potentially harmful ingredient. Highly processed cheese powder seems to be the likely culprit. Even organic mac and cheese brands contained phthalates.
Americans buy two million boxes of mac and cheese every day. Researchers noted that you can’t just shop your way out of the issue. So, the FDA should do something about it.
The FDA Has Yet to Address the Issue
Researchers also advise consumers to contact producers and ask them to investigate how the chemicals landed into their favorite food. Nine of the types of mac and cheese were produced by Kraft, which manufactures most of the mac and cheese in America.
Consumer advocacy groups urged the FDA in 2016 to solve the problem and remove the chemicals from packaging, industrial equipment, and food. The FDA postponed the response to the petition, citing technical reasons.
A spokesperson for the agency said that it monitors the available research to see if the chemicals are indeed toxic when consumed. Phthalates are inserted in plastic packaging to soften it. They are also present in adhesives and solvents, but because they easily bind with fats, they are attracted to fatty foods such as macaroni and cheese.
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