A new study has forever ruined this cheesy comfort food, with the discovery of industrial chemicals in the vast majority of boxed mac "n" cheese. Past studies have found evidence that phthalates can disrupt hormones and can affect the development of the male reproductive system, say experts.
"The chemicals migrate into food from food processing equipment like plastic tubing, conveyor belts and gaskets and other plastic materials used in the manufacturing process, and can also seep in from printed labels or plastic materials in the packaging".
"Therefore, cheese products were chosen as the first in a series of dairy products and other foods to test for phthalates", the study notes.
The researchers made a decision to test cheese after a 2014 scientific review said dairy products are "the greatest source of dietary exposure" to DEHP - which the researchers describe as the phthalate most widely restricted - for babies and women who could get pregnant. Late Thursday night, The NY Times reported that those powdered cheese packets found in your favorite boxes of mac contain high concentrations of phthalates, chemicals linked to hormone disruption, genital birth defects and learning and behavioral problems in older kids, and people are not taking the news well.
"The findings are not surprising or inconsistent, unfortunately, with increasing literature that has documented phthalates easily getting into and staying in especially dairy products", said Dr. Leonardo Trasande, associate professor in the department of Pediatrics, Environmental Medicine, and Population Health at NYU Langone Medical Center. These include testicular cancer, and problems with fertility, making exposure of phthalates to pregnant women and young boys a particular health concern. "We know these more toxic phthalates accumulate in fat", Sathyanarayana said. "Our products are safe for consumers to enjoy", she stated.
He uses the example of ethanol, which is a widely used solvent that is also added to gasoline - "yet we happily drink it".
The organization is one of four advocacy groups that funded the report along with Ecology Center, Healthy Babies Bright Futures and Safer States.
A New York Times report about the recent study claimed the harmful chemical was not banned from food products in the U.S. However, the article cited a 2014 report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission that mentioned federal agencies were asked to consider the chemical's risk "with a view to supporting risk management steps".
Past research has linked phthalates to health issues including hormone disruption and lower sperm count.
Phthalates bind with fats, which is why they can build up in fatty foods, including infant formula, meats and fast food.
Further, di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) was found more often in the products and in higher concentrations compared to other phthalates.