Yes, There Are Chemicals in Boxed Mac & Cheese but Don't Freak Out ... Yet

boxed mac and cheese

It's a staple in many a mom's pantry, but the boxed mac and cheese is under the microscope this week thanks to a report from the Coalition for Safer Food Processing and Packaging. Funded by a number of watchdog groups, the study released this week claims most macaroni and cheese mixes with powdered cheese contain dangerous amounts of phthalates, a chemical that's been linked in the past to hormone disruption and cancer. 


So what's the deal?

Scientists in Belgium tested 51 different cheese products available for sale in the US, and say they detected phthalates in all but one of the samples. The highest concentrations of the chemical were found in the cheese powder in 10 different boxed mac and cheese mixes, including ones with an organic label. Specifically, they say the average total concentration of phthalates in macaroni and cheese powder was "more than four times higher than in natural cheese."

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Before parents panic, it's important to note that food manufacturers aren't mixing chemicals into our kids' favorite dinner -- at least not phthalates. The substances are used in the packaging, not in the actual cheese powder, according to FDA. 

Phthatlates, which are also found in everything from nail polish to soap to raincoats, have been deemed safe for food packaging -- at certain levels -- by the FDA. 

"The substances in food-contact materials may migrate at low levels when the materials come into contact with food," FDA spokeswoman Megan McSeveney told CafeMom. "The FDA regulates all substances in food-contact materials that are reasonably expected to migrate into food based on their intended use. This includes the use of some phthalates in food packaging." 

McSeveney said the FDA uses scientific data to determine whether or not a substance that will come in contact with food is authorized for use. As yet, phthalates are allowed. 

However, that doesn't mean things will always be this way. The FDA has received a submission -- an official form of a petition -- from the Environmental Defense Fund and a group of other agencies that called for the removal of phthalates from all food packaging. The agency sent back issues with the submission to the petitioners, so review of the request is on hold. 

McSeveney says the FDA does continuously review food additives and scientific findings. 

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"The FDA's safety evaluations generally focus on dietary exposure to the food-contact substance, as well as available toxicity information on the substance, in order to determine if the exposure from the intended use is safe," she notes. "The FDA does not stop evaluating available information on a food additive once it is approved for use. The FDA continues to examine data on these compounds as it becomes available."

In other words, the FDA's current stance: Your kids' mac and cheese is okay. But they're keeping an eye on the science. 

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