A new study shows that 29 out of 30 cheese products are found to contain phthalates, the chemicals used to make soft plastics for soft plastic toys and gloves. Mac and cheese, the powered cheese most popular with children, contains the highest levels of the chemicals.
Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors. They can lower IQ, harm the neurons and damage the reproductive systems, particular prenatally and postnatally in infants and young children. Early exposure to these chemicals is associated with male genital defects.
The study commissioned by the Coalition for Safer Food Processing and Packaging reveals that powered cheese like Macaroni and Cheese and dry mix contain 2.5 ppm of phthalates which is 2 times as high as the level (1.2 ppm) found in sliced processed cheese and four times as high in natural cheese (0.6 ppm) such as hard, shredded, string & cottage cheese.
The food processing and packaging inevitably introduces phthalates into processed because of use of phthalates containing plastics as contact materials. Highly processed foods tend to contain high levels of these chemicals because the processing requires more contact with the toxic chemicals.
Europe banned most phthalates for use in plastics that come in contact with fatty foods, including dairy products. And U.S. FDA still allows use of DEHP and many other phthalates used in materials that are in contact with foods, according to the test report by the Coalition for Safer Food Processing and Packaging.
The developing fetus and younger children are at greatest risk of exposure to phthalates and they are more sensitive to the toxic effects than teens and adults. In the U.S. an estimated 750,000 child-bearing women are exposed to an unacceptable levels of these toxic chemicals.
The chemicals are particularly harmful to boys. Animal studies show exposure to phthalates can cause genital birth defects including hypospadias, chryptorchidism (or undescended testes), and smaller penis size.
How to reduce exposure to phthalates?
Reduce use of processed or packaged foods, particularly dairy food and baked foods. Many parts used in food processing such as plastic tubing, hoses, conveyor belts, gloves, seals, and gaskets can release phthalates. The chemicals can also escape from parts and materials used for food packaging such as plastic coatings, adhesives for boxes, inks for food labeling, and sealants on metal lids and cans.
Other sources of exposure to phthalates include plastic with the number 3 inside a triangle recycling sign. Personal care and cleaning products with scents are more than likely to carry phthalates. It can help avoid or reduce the exposure by using products that claim to be phthalate-free. Household dust can also come with phthalates. A HEPA vacuum cleaner with a high efficiency particulate air filter may help clean up household dust. (David Liu)