Powdered Mac And Cheese May Contain Toxic Chemicals Banned From Kids' Toys

A review found high concentrations of phthalates in various cheese products currently being sold in the market. Powdered cheese in boxed mac and cheese were found to have the highest concentrations of phthalates among the tested products.

Phthalates have previously been linked to pregnancy problems as well as behavioral problems in older children.

Review Of Cheese Products

You may be familiar with phthalates, but not for health reasons. Phthalates are often called plasticizers and are used in a variety of plastic products to make them more flexible. However, a new study shows that many of the cheese products in the market actually have significant traces of this chemical compound.

After testing different types of cheese products including children's favorites such as string cheese and processed cheese slices, researchers found that 29 out of 30 tested products contained phthalates. More specifically, they identified 10 different phthalates in the tested cheese products, with up to six compounds in a single product.

In fact, the highest concentrations of phthalates were found in the powdered samples from boxed mac and cheese where the average phthalates levels were up to four times higher than other cheese products.

Further, di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) was found more often in the products and in higher concentrations compared to other phthalates.

Why Test Cheese?

Researchers opted to examine cheese products after a 2014 study, which concluded dairy products to be the highest source of DEHP among children and women at reproductive age. As such, the team opted to review cheese products first in the series of dairy products testing for DEHP.

The review was carried out by four groups, namely the Environmental Health Strategy Center, Safer States, Healthy Babies Bright Futures, and the Ecology Center. The testing itself was conducted by an independent laboratory in Belgium, the Flemish Institute for Technological Research.

What Are Phthalates?

As mentioned, phthalates are chemical compounds that are often used to make plastics more flexible and difficult to break. They are used in a multitude of products including vinyl flooring, automotive plastics, lubricating oils, raincoats, and beauty products such as shampoo and nail polish.

They are also in products that children often use such as inflatables and plastic toys.

How Are Phthalates Absorbed In The Body?

More often, phthalates are absorbed through the skin via direct contact or by eating and drinking food products that have been in contact with phthalates. Though exposure to phthalates via the air occurs albeit to a lesser extent, young children may be more at risk of phthalate exposure from dust due to their hand-to-mouth habits.

Health Risks

At levels found in the environment, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not expect any adverse health effects. However, more serious effects of phthalates remain to be a mystery, as human absorption and breakdown of DEHP varies greatly from that of mice and rats. As such, some of the effects of DEHP exposure to mice may not occur to humans and primates.

Even agencies are split on this matter, as the Environmental Protection Agency classifies DEHP as probably human carcinogens along with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) who classifies the chemical compounds similarly.

On the other hand, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) changed its description of DEHP from being a possible carcinogen to a product that cannot be classified regarding its carcinogenicity in humans.

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