In an article published on July 12, 2017 in the New York Times, Roni Caryn Rabin reported about a new study of 30 cheese products, where phthalates were detected in all but one of the samples tested. The study was led by the Coalition for Safer Food Processing & Packaging, an alliance of several food safety NGOs and health advocacy groups.
Processed cheese slices were found to contain nearly three times higher concentrations of phthalates than unprocessed hard block cheese (based on the cheeses’ fat content). The highest phthalate concentrations were found in the cheese powder from macaroni and cheese (“mac and cheese”) ready meals, with levels up to four times higher than in unprocessed cheese. Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP, CAS 117-81-7) was detected most frequently and at highest concentrations.
Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center urged consumers “to contact manufacturers and pressure them to investigate how phthalates are getting into their products and take steps to eliminate it.” In 2016, several environmental and food safety groups petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to remove all ortho-phthalates from food, food packaging and food processing equipment (FPF reported), but the petition has been “delayed temporarily for technical reasons.”
Phthalates are industrial chemicals used as plasticizers or solvents. They are not deliberately added to food, but may migrate from the processing equipment or from packaging. Phthalates may affect male reproduction and a variety of other systems in the living organisms (FPF reported), acting as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) (FPF reported). Heather Patisaul from the North Carolina State University commented that “although the concentration of phthalates in food may be quite low […] they are still present at higher levels than the natural hormones in the body.” Mac and cheese is a dish frequently consumed by children who are known to be most vulnerable to EDCs (FPF reported).
Roni Caryn Rabin (July 12, 2017). “The chemicals in your mac and cheese.” The New York Times
Coalition for Safer Food Processing & Packaging (2017). “Testing finds industrial chemical phthalates in cheese.” (pdf)
SCHF (July 13, 2017). “Toxic industrial chemicals found in 10 varieties of macaroni and cheese powders.”
Center for Food Safety (July 13, 2017). “Toxic industrial chemicals found in 10 varieties of macaroni and cheese powders.”
EcoWatch (July 14, 2017). “Toxic industrial chemicals found in 10 types of macaroni and cheese powders.”
Ashley May (July 14, 2017). “Chemicals found in mac and cheese powder might pose serious health threat, study says.” USA TODAY
CBS SF Bay Area (July 14, 2017). “ConsumerWatch: Mac ‘n’ Cheese Danger.” (video)
Marion Nestle (July 25, 2017). “Worried about phthalates: ‘Just don’t eat foods in boxes.’” EcoWatch
Chemical Watch (July 27, 2017). “US NGOs demand removal of phthalates from cheese products.“