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Another popular family product got some bad press recently for containing the potentially dangerous chemicals, phthalates. 

The dish? Supermarket mac ‘n’ cheese.

It seems like every week scientists are finding another chemical in popular products or lambasting food groups for giving us cancer. So, when should we take note?

June is skeptical about grand statements that can’t be backed by fact, so we pay careful attention to research and evidence presented on these topics.

But as phthalates can appear in bath and body products as well as foods, we feel this dangerous chemical is worthy of some attention.

We are concerned enough to ban them from our products and to alert you to the information that’s out there, so you can make your own informed decisions.

What Are Phthalates?

Phthalates are a group of about 25 colorless, odorless chemicals used to soften plastics and make them more flexible.

These chemical compounds make products like laminate flooring, garden hoses and plastic wrap possible. 

Without them, all objects made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) would be hard and rigid.

They’re also used in personal care products such as cosmetics, perfumes, moisturizers and nail polish, to help the absorption of lotions into the skin or to help fragrances last longer. 

It’s thought that food with high fat content is more likely to pick up DEHP during food processing and packaging.

When it comes to food, high quantities of the phthalate DEHP have been found in poultry, cooking oils and cream-based dairy products. 

It’s thought that food with high fat content is more likely to pick up DEHP during food processing and packaging.

Most recently, phthalates have been found in one of America’s biggest food products—macaroni and cheese mixes made with powdered cheese.

Phthalates have been found in packaged macaroni and cheese

Around 700 million boxes of dry mix mac and cheese are sold a year in the States, with the big brand names being exported around the world.

A study of 30 cheese products were tested in 2017 by the environmental group Coalition for Safer Food Processing and Packaging.

Of these, 29 came back positive for phthalates. In some, up to six different phthalates were discovered in a single product. 

How Are Phthalates Harmful?

It’s hard to investigate the dangers of phthalates in food, because the chemical is a byproduct of processing and as such is never listed in the ingredients.

So attention in recent years has focused on the phthalates we’re absorbing via our skin through our bath and body products.

With the global chemical industry producing about six million tons of phthalates a year, we’re universally exposed to multiple phthalates every day. 

Phthalates in some lotions, powders and shampoos can be harmful to infants

There’s a growing body of evidence phthalates can be harmful, in particular to pregnant women and young children.

Babies under eight months who are exposed to lotions, powders and shampoos show up higher levels of phthalate metabolites in their urine than older infants, a University of Washington study found.

Every baby assessed between two and 28 months had detectable levels of phthalate in their pee, while 81% of them recorded seven or more of the chemicals.

Those under eight months showed a higher concentration of phthalates—as well as those whose moms used more baby care products, the study in Pediatrics journal revealed.

When an expectant mother is exposed to some phthalates, her sons experience a change in their reproductive development.  

This is worrying, as scientists fear the chemicals may alter hormone concentrations in early childhood.

In pregnant rats, numerous studies have proven that exposure to phthalates reduces testosterone in the male fetus, affecting the normal development of the penis and descent of their testicles.

Researchers at Rochester University in New York found that when an expectant mother is exposed to some phthalates, her sons experience a change in their reproductive development. 

So the chemical could be altering the sexual development of boys in the womb and be to blame for a global drop in male fertility, scientists claim.

Certain strands of the chemical are also thought to increase the risk of allergies including asthma and eczema, according to numerous studies taken from Asia, Europe and the U.S. 

How can we avoid phthalates? 

This is a tricky one as legislation is still playing catch up to research.

So far, six types of phthalates have been banned in children’s toys in Europe and the U.S. over fears they can damage a child’s sexual development.

Three types of phthalates are banned completely from children’s toys—DEHP, DBP and BBP; while another three are banned from products that could go in a child’s mouth—DINP, DIDP and DnOP

But the current regulations only apply to certain products, so items that children could come into contact with—such as school erasers—could still contain the dangerous chemicals.

The easiest way to avoid exposure to phthalates is by avoiding any PVC products. These are often labeled with the word ‘vinyl’ or a plastic recycling sign with the number 3 in the center. 

When it comes to children’s products, personal and homecare products, you can specifically shop for brands that declare themselves phthalate free.

However, with food it gets a little trickier. 

As it’s thought phthalates are just a byproduct of the manufacturing process—rather than an added ingredient—you won’t see the chemical listed on any packaging. Which means you may have no idea if it’s in your product or not.

Here are some simple steps which could reduce your exposure:

  • Eat fresh fruit and vegetables, avoiding packaged food.
  • Don’t microwave plastic as the heat can cause the chemical to leach into your food.
  • Choose glass and stainless-steel containers over plastic ones.
  • Opt for low-fat dairy products.
  • Pick unscented personal care products and cosmetics.
  • Make your own mac n’ cheese!

 

June believes enough in the potential damaging effect of phthalates to ensure that we don’t carry them in any of our products.

We hope that there is enough information here to help you make your own informed decision about what is best for you and your family.