Happy National Macaroni & Cheese (With Phthalates) Day!

CC BY 2.0. Vancouver Bites! -- Think of this as aspirational mac 'n' cheese, the kind that's likely homemade and is therefore free from industrial chemicals.

A distasteful new study has discovered industrial chemicals in the vast majority of boxed mac 'n' cheese.

Happy National Mac and Cheese Day! Normally, I’d encourage you to go out and get some of this creamy, cheesy comfort food to mark the occasion, just for fun, but unfortunately the mac ’n’ cheese industry is not exactly celebrating this year. In fact, they’ve been dealt a pretty nasty blow with the recent discovery that almost all packaged mac ‘n’ cheese brands contain surprising levels of phthalates. Yuck!

Lab tests funded by four advocacy groups found phthalates in all but one of 30 cheese products, with highest concentrations found in the powdered cheese mixes that are typically paired with macaroni. Here, phthalates measured four times higher than in block cheese or other natural cheeses, such as string, shredded, or cottage cheese. The New York Times reports:

“The groups tested 10 different varieties of mac and cheese, including some that were labeled organic, and found high levels of phthalates in all of them... Nine of the cheese products tested were made by Kraft, which makes most of the macaroni and cheese products sold, though the group did not disclose the names of specific products tested.”

Phthalates, which are industrial chemicals typically used to soften plastics, are concerning because they disrupt human hormones, including blocking the production of testosterone. This can lead to fetal birth defects, infertility, low sperm counts, altered male reproductive behavior, and increased risk of testicular cancer down the road. Other research has linked phthalates to behavioral problems in children, such as aggression and hyperactivity.

Phthalates are not added deliberately to food products, but are acquired throughout processing. According to the New York Times:

“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. Since they bind with fats, they tend to build up in fatty foods, including not just cheese but baked goods, infant formula, meats, oils and fats, and fast food, studies show.”

The lab results did not include the names of brands, which has enraged many online commenters, and Kraft has not yet commented on the findings, though it has promised to look into the results. You can add your name to the “KleanUpKraft” petition here.

It would appear that the best way to celebrate National Macaroni and Cheese Day is to make your own from scratch. It’s not that hard and – dare I say? – far more delicious anyways.