While macaroni and cheese is a comfort food for many, one unexpected ingredient found in packaged mixes may surprise you: phthalates. Given the fact that cheese products have been identified as a major phthalate exposure route for women and children, U.S. environmental advocacy groups conducted a survey of cheese products. Of the 30 cheese samples taken, some 29 had detectable levels of phthalates, with the cheese packets in macaroni and cheese containing the highest levels by far, with results up to four times higher than hard cheese samples. DEHP was the phthalate found most often and at the highest concentration. DEHP is a plasticizer and is found in products such as toys, shower curtains, and hospital items such as IV bags and tubing.
Phthalates are not added directly to food but rather seep into the product via food processing, such as from the conveyor belt, tubing, or plastic packaging. They bind to fatty foods, including infant formula, oils, and meats. When they are consumed, the chemicals are absorbed by the fat cells in the body as well. The concern lies in the mounting evidence pointing toward the endocrine-disrupting properties of phthalates, leading to negative health outcomes such as thyroid disturbances, impaired male fertility, and obesity.
Health Care Without Harm directs health care institutions to resources where they can purchase medical devices and other products that do not contain phthalates. HCWH also just launched a new webpage with alternatives to medical devices containing PVC and DEHP on the Healthier Hospitals website.
[Source: New York Times]