Does your favorite mac & cheese powder contain risky chemicals?

The Coalition for Safer Food Processing and Packaging, the group behind, tested 30 cheese products for phthalates, a group of plastics used to make plastics more flexible. According to the Food Marketing Institute's U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends study, 61% of shoppers say they rely on themselves as individuals to ensure food safety, up from 55% in 2009.

The chemicals, known as phthalates, are used in hundreds of products, foods, and drinks and have been linked to serious health complications.

Nine of the products analyzed were created by Kraft, which is the leading provider of mac and cheese products across the country. "Pregnant women's exposures to these chemicals in products and food may put their babies at higher risk for learning and developmental disabilities", Maureen Swanson, professor of epidemiology and environmental health at UC Davis Department of Public Health Sciences, said in a statement. While slathering phthalates on your skin or popping pills coated in them is certainly not appealing, eating them in our food products is potentially worse, particularly when these foods are eaten in high volumes by children, whose developing bodies and brains are even more vulnerable than our adult bodies.

Findings revealed • Phthalates in almost 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 an 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. Traces of phthalates, a harmful chemical commonly used in plastic products, adhesives, soaps, et cetera, were found in close to 99.6% of the participants.

When looking at the fat alone, the powdered cheese mix had a concentration of phthalates more than 4 times that of the natural cheeses, and more than 1.5 times the amount in processed cheeses.

"We don't have a lot of information on how much phthalates are in different foods".

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. When asked about the report, Kraft Heinz told CNN, "We do not add phthalates to our products". But that is little protection for pregnant women.

In Europe, phthalates have already been prohibited from use in plastic food contact materials for fatty foods, including dairy products. Natural cheeses had the lowest levels of the chemical, while processed cheese products had the highest levels.

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Vanessa Coleman