Recent News About Phthalates and Macaroni and Cheese

Posted on Behalf of  Fian Louie


In a report published by the Coalition for Safer Food Processing and Packaging (CSFPP), 30 cheese products, including dry cheese found in macaroni and cheese packets, were tested for 13 phthalates. Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, or DEHP, was found at detectable levels in 93 percent of all samples tested, making it the most frequently detected phthalate. A synopsis of the CSFPP report was recently published in the New York Times on July 12, 2017.

DEHP is one of the most extensively used phthalates worldwide. The majority of DEHP is used as a plasticizer for flooring, waterproofing, cable sheathing/insulation, PVC, epoxy and polyurethane products; it is also used in fragrance bases for perfumery and cosmetic products. Several phthalates, including DEHP and many others that were tested by the CSFPP, are legal through the FDA for use as indirect food additives or as paper and paperboard components (for example, see: 21 CFR 176).

Cardno ChemRisk previously performed a risk assessment of DEHP in which 47 varieties of cheese sold in California from 31 companies were tested. Based on the sampling results, we performed a human health risk assessment to compare the potential human exposure levels to Prop 65 levels set at the time of the project. Based on our results, we concluded that the DEHP concentrations measured in California cheeses did not exceed the Proposition 65 NSRL (No Significant Risk Level, or the daily intake level posing a 1/100,000 lifetime risk of cancer).

Per the recent CSFPP report, the concentration of DEHP across all 30 products tested ranged from less than one microgram per kilogram (µg/kg) product weight to 165 µg/kg product weight, or parts per billion. The average DEHP concentration was 50 micrograms DEHP per kilogram product weight (assuming the products below the LOQ are zero). The NSRL adopted for DEHP under Proposition 65 is 310 micrograms per day (µg/day) for oral exposure (Cal/EPA 2002). The MADLs (Maximum Allowable Dose Level, or the level at which a chemical would have no observable effect even if an individual were exposed to 1,000 times that level) adopted for DEHP are 410 µg/day for adults, and 58 µg/day for infant boys (29 days-24 months) via oral exposure (Cal/EPA 2005; OAG). To put this in perspective, a cheese packet in a box of macaroni is approximately 1/3 cup or about 38 grams. Assuming an individual eats an entire box of macaroni and cheese and that the cheese mix contains the maximum concentration of DEHP reported by CSFPP for this product category (165 µg/kg product weight), then that person would consume a total of 6 µg of DEHP. This is nearly 10 times less than the MADL for infant boys and over 50 times less than the NSRL for adults.