A new study of 30 cheese products has detected phthalates in all but one of the samples tested, with the highest concentrations found in the highly processed cheese powder in boxed mac-and-cheese mixes.
Pthalates are potentially harmful chemicals that were banned from children's teething rings and rubber duck toys a decade ago. But they are still present in high concentrations in children's favourite meal: macaroni and cheese mixes made with powdered cheese.
The chemicals can disrupt male hormones like testosterone and had been linked to genital birth defects in infant boys besides learning and behaviour problems in older children. Pthalates find their way into food from packaging and equipment used in manufacturing and might pose special risks to pregnant women and young children.
Their presence in food had not been banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), though a 2014 report to the Consumer Product Safety Commission urged federal agencies to assess risks ''with a view to supporting risk-management steps.''
According to the report food, drugs and beverages, and not toys, were the primary source of exposure to phthalates.
''The phthalate concentrations in powder from mac and cheese mixes were more than four times higher than in block cheese and other natural cheeses like shredded cheese, string cheese and cottage cheese,'' said Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, one of four advocacy groups that paid for the new study, The Seattle Times reported.
Also, di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP) the most widely banned phthalate around the world, has been detected in 10 of the mac and cheese powders tested.
The report has just been released by the Coalition for Safer Food Processing and Packing and urges mac and cheese makers to eliminate any and all phthalates.