Attention lovers of boxed mac and cheese: You might be eating dangerous chemicals. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it might be time to find your own homemade recipe instead of relying on the bright orange kind. Unless you want to be eating phthalates, that is.
So what are phthalates, and why are they so serious? They’re potentially harmful chemicals that have been banned from teething rings and children’s toys for years, but are still found in the powdery cheese packet that comes inside your box of mac.
These chemicals are especially dangerous for young children and pregnant women. They can cause a disruption in male hormones like testosterone, have been linked to genital birth defects in infant males, and a variety of learning and behavioral issues in older children. And even if you don’t eat them, these phthalates can seep into your food from packaging and manufacturing equipment.
Despite all of this, phthalates are not banned in food. In a 2014 report to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, it was concluded that, “food, drugs and beverages, and not toys, were the primary source of exposure to phthalates,” the New York Times reports.
“The phthalate concentrations in powder from mac and cheese mixes were more than four times higher than in block cheese and other natural cheeses like shredded cheese, string cheese and cottage cheese,” said Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, one of four advocacy groups that funded the report. Other groups were the Ecology Center, Healthy Babies Bright Futures and Safer States.
The contingent tested 10 different varieties of mac and cheese (including some that were supposedly organic), and found high levels of phthalates in every cheesy variety. Nine out of the 10 different varieties were made by Kraft, which spells bad news for SpongeBob mac and cheese—also known as the best kind.
“Our belief is that it’s in every mac ‘n’ cheese product—you can’t shop your way out of the problem,” Belliveau told the New York Times.