Consumer groups use National Mac 'n Cheese day to focus on phthalates in food

Consumer groups say lab tests revealed industrial chemicals known as phthalates in cheese powders for boxed mac 'n cheese KOMO photo

One of America's favorite comfort foods is the target of a new movement to eliminate certain chemicals known as phthalates.

Phthalates are industrial chemicals used to soften plastics. They can be found in all sorts of products- from vinyl flooring, to detergents to food and beverage storage containers and even cosmetics.

Phthalates are banned in kids' products because their particles can be ingested, and pose a potential health risk.

But the particles can also get into processed foods. So, a coalition of consumer groups commissioned lab tests on block, shredded and powdered cheeses, for National Mac and Cheese day.

The Coalition for Safer Food Processing says it intentionally targeted the a quintessential kid food favorite.

"Almost everybody eats mac 'n cheese, and often from a box." said Erika Schreder, science director for Toxic Free Future in Seattle.

The coalition of consumer advocate groups is concerned about cheese powders that help turn plain macaroni into creamy, cheesy goodness.

Safety advocates say the independent lab tests revealed phthalates in every boxed macaroni and cheese brand they tested.

"And we know that phthalates have a serious health impact." said Schreder. "They can block the production of testosterone, which of course is so important in boys' reproductive development."

Schreder says the coalitions tests found the phthalate levels in boxed mac and cheese were four times higher than those found in block cheeses, because cheese powders are more processed.

The group believes the lion's share of phthalates are migrating into the powder from the processing equipment. And while the concern involves all boxed macaroni and cheese products, consumer advocates chose National Mac and Cheese Day to target food manufacturer Kraft.

"Kraft is a leader in making mac and cheese and making cheese products of all kinds." Schreder explained. "And Kraft can be a leader in getting phthalates out of its products."

But Kraft takes issue with both the research, and the suggestion that its mac and cheese poses any health risk.

In an email statement, the company's corporate affairs division said:

"We do not add phthalates to our products. The trace amounts that were reported in this limited study are more than 1,000 times lower than levels that scientific authorities have identified as acceptable. Our products are safe for consumers to enjoy."

The consumer groups say the independent lab tests involved 30 cheese products from various manufacturers, including 10 different varieties of boxed macaroni and cheese.

They point out that phthalates can migrate into any food during processing and while they don't expect us to give up mac 'n cheese, we should all try to limit how much processed food we eat.

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