Since going plastic-free, I generally avoid processed, packaged foods. So I haven’t enjoyed the Day-Glo orange of Kraft Mac & Cheese in years. (Yeah, I used to live on that stuff in the 80’s and 90’s, with extra cheese added because, despite the advertising claims, it really isn’t the “cheesiest.”)
But the other day, Michael brought home a box of organic quinoa mac & cheese that someone had left on the curb as a freebie, and I thought maybe I’d go ahead and have it, its being free and all.
And then yesterday, I read that a new study commissioned by the Coalition for Safer Food Processing & Packaging has found phthalates — a type of hormone-disrupting chemical found in plastics — in 29 of 30 cheese products they tested. Cheese powders from boxed mac & cheese had four times higher levels of phthalates than natural, unprocessed cheeses. And other processed cheeses (like American cheese singles, for example) had three times higher levels of phthalates than natural cheeses.
So, how did these chemicals get into the cheese products? Phthalates are not intentionally added to foods but migrate in during the manufacturing and packaging process, presumably from plastics in equipment and packaging. The less processed the cheese, the less exposure to these chemicals.
Cheese powder seems to be the most processed type of cheese available.
Which also makes me wonder about other types of snacks coated in cheese powder. Pirate’s Booty anyone? White cheddar popcorn? Flamin’ hot Cheetos?
Phthalates in Organic Products Too?
Since the study was small, the coalition is not willing to release the complete list of brands that were tested, except to say that 8 of 9 Kraft Foods products tested positive for phthalates and that in addition, phthalates were found in both certified organic and non-organic cheese products tested.
So is my quinoa mac & cheese safe? I don’t know. And I don’t know if there are phthalates in any of the other brands pictured above either. But the point is that we should all think harder before consuming any processed, packaged cheese products, whether organic or not. The more processing, the more chance for exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals.
I’ll stick with my plastic-free whole wheels of cheese.
The Coalition’s conclusion is that more study needs to be done on phthalates in cheeses and has issued a call to Kraft Heinz Company, the biggest producer of boxed macaroni & cheese (76% market share), to “drive industry-wide change by eliminating any sources of phthalates that may end up in its cheese products.” Visit http://www.KleanUpKraft.org to sign the public petition and learn more about the study.
You can read the full data summary here.
To learn more about hormone disruptors in plastics and how they behave in the body, check out these posts: