Grocery News Now Trending Packaged Food Science

That Viral Mac And Cheese Study Is Actually A Fear-Mongering Twist On The Truth

Photo: Mike Mozart on Flickr

Don’t trust every scientific study that comes along on the Internet.

The New York Times recently published an article about a study identifying chemicals called phthalates in boxed macaroni and cheese products. Phthalates accidentally leach into food, especially high-fat items like meat and cheese, from processing or packaging equipment. In high dosages, they have some chronic toxicological concerns, which include potentially limiting testosterone production and disrupting hormones.

In their post, the Times claims that powdered cheese in boxed mac and cheese products, such as those produced by Kraft, can contain up to four times more phthalate than dairy products like string cheese.

Since the article went live, other outlets have begun to discuss how we should avoid eating boxed mac and cheese in the future because of these phthalates. If you read one of these, including the Times piece, there’s a good chance you stumbled into some classic pitfalls of inaccurate science reporting.

I’m not going to say that the Times article is completely false. They do a great job describing the toxicological risks of phthalates based on current research. However, there are multiple elements of the mac and cheese study that need to be addressed because it unjustly instills fear into the consumption of a product we love by distorting some data.

Photo: Steven Guzzardi on Flickr

To start, the claim that powdered cheese has quadruple the phthalate of other cheese products is definitely inflated. In the original study, you’ll find that in the actual overall product, phthalate levels are roughly within the same concentration range of 100-200 micrograms per kilogram of food. That means that per kilogram, cheese products like string cheese, cottage cheese, and the powdered cheese all have the same concentration level of phthalate. The false powdered cheese claim comes from measuring on a fat basis, so you would only find quadruple the phthalate in your system if you just ate the fat from each cheese, which doesn’t sound too appetizing.

If you try to compare between different specific phthalates, which is how the European Union regulates their intake of these incidental additives (the US has no such recommendations), you’ll find that the authors of the circulated report pulled a fast one. Instead of showing the concentration of each phthalate in the total product, they only presented data on the amount of each phthalate in the fat of all cheese products. There is no way to compare how much of each specific compound is present between boxed macaroni and cheese, string cheese, and other products evaluated by the study, so no actual determination can be made if these compounds are present in toxic levels or not.

Speaking of the study, it itself is more biased than that coconut oil study published by the American Heart Association last month. The coalition behind this report targeted Kraft Mac and Cheese as a potentially toxic product to strike fear into us. We know this because while no brands are named in the report, Kraft was the only brand analyzed that was mentioned to the New York Times. Furthermore, the study’s writers, “The Coalition For Safer Food Processing And Packaging,” were kind enough to leave us their website name: Pretty sure there’s at least some kind of bias there.

On the website, you can actually find the full laboratory report of the tests that wasn’t displayed or circulated by the New York Times. Page 22 shows the full results of each specific phthalate for each product, and none of these results come even close to EU limits of how much of each phthalate can be present per kilogram of food. (Look at page 5 in the SML column of this report for those amounts.) This means that Klean Up Kraft took the data and egregiously spun it to scare us all out of eating boxed mac and cheese.

Photo: Pixabay

Based on this realization, however, you should feel better about chowing down on some boxed macaroni tonight. There isn’t even close to enough phthalate in this cheesy pasta to be of concern. You can still avoid it if you wish, but just know that the study about these compounds is blowing the entire thing out of proportion.

Humor Video

Watch Kraft’s Charmingly Vulgar Mother’s Day Commercial

Mother’s Day is right around the corner and this year, Kraft is giving moms a little extra love. In honor of the National Holiday, the mac and cheese brand teamed up with swearing expert Melissa Mohr, Ph.D., in a hilarious commercial short: Swear Like a Mother.

The idea is that moms aren’t perfect, they’ll mess up just like everyone else because they’re human. This includes swearing like a sailor upon occasion. Statistically, 74 percent of moms have admitted to swearing in front of their own children.

Mohr is the author of Holy Sh*T: A Brief History of Swearing, a book on alternative swear words moms can use around their kids.

Check out the short in the video above. This officially serves as your first reminder to get your mom something for Mother’s Day.

Kraft is also developing adorable mac and cheese ear plugs for children, in case swearing alternatives cannot be found in the heat of the moment.


You’ve Been Eating Parmesan Cheese Made With Wood And Never Even Knew It

Unbeknownst to many, Parmesan fraud is a growing issue in today’s cheese market (despite how jokey that sounds). According to the FDA, Parmesan cheese is being cut more and more often with a variety of things that aren’t Parmesan cheese, namely other cheeses and…wood pulp.

I had an idea of what wood pulp was, but I wasn’t entirely sure, so I googled it. Turns out, it’s exactly what you would expect it to be: pieces of wood ground down so finely that it becomes pulpy. In order to make maximum profits using minimum resources, several companies (both proven guilty and allegedly guilty) used the pulp replacement to save on ingredients.

According to the FDA’s Code of Federal Regulations, Parmesan cheese (or more properly known as Parmigiano-Reggiano when referring to the actual thing) is allowed to have only three ingredients in it: milk, rennet (in order to harden the cheese), and salt. Small enzyme particles of plant and animal origins are allowed to make their way into the cheese during the fermentation process, but combined can only weigh .01 percent or less of the total weight of the milk used. Additionally, creators of the cheese can add food coloring if they would like, as long as every coloring used, no matter how little, is listed in the ingredients.

A large number of companies have come under fire lately for their misleading products, including big competitors like Kraft. Three ingredients that are absolutely not allowed in the cheese are cellulose, potassium sorbate and cheese culture, yet all three were found in Kraft’s Grated Parmesan Cheese, on top of the wood pulp. While a slap in the face like this might fly in America, the land of gracious rebranding, the cheese is an affront to Europeans, who live close enough to Parma, Italy, to try the real deal. Thus, the European FDA forbade Kraft from selling their cheese in Europe, or at the very least, selling it under the guise of Parmesan.

This “wood in your cheese” news comes as an unwelcome surprise to Parmesan-lovers for two reasons, the first reason being good ol’ fashioned deceit. Nobody enjoys having the wool pulled over their eyes or feeling tricked. So finding out through third party sources that the cheese you love so much has been parading around as something else this entire time is sure to incite some pretty unhappy, if not furious, emotions.

Second, we are now eating things in which we are unsure of the ignredients. We as consumers are not particularly happy when we eat something that isn’t what it is advertised to be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like anybody is being fed bleach or cyanide or anything like that; it’s not anything life-threatening. But for people with very specific allergies, or people that are sticklers for health, a discovery like this is easily enough to dissuade them from ever purchasing the product made by that company again.

One talented Forbes Magazine contributor, Larry Olmstead, created an in-depth article pointing out all the issues with Parmesan cheese made in America, pointing out that tricky American labels are leading to misrepresentation strong enough to fool consumers. He uses the skewed labeling for Kraft’s 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, pointing out his confusion by saying, “I’m not sure if that means it is supposed to be 100% “parmesan” or simply 100% grated, which it certainly is.” Many other companies that sell the grated and bottled cheese also bank on slick and devious labeling, using ambiguous words and phrases like “all natural” and “100% real.” Anything can be considered 100% real if it’s a tangible object, can’t it? And words like “natural” have implied meanings, but nothing concrete, which is especially useful for companies looking to spin the true nature of their ingredients.



Sources: Forbes, Bloomberg, Grubstreet

Packaged Food

Kraft Recalls 36,000 Cases Of Cheese Product After Plastic Choking Incidents


The Kraft Heinz Company announced that it’s recalling 36,000 cases of Kraft Singles, Consumerist reports. Turns out, the plastic wrap that separates each individual slices is a choking hazard.

In a press release, the company stated, “A thin strip of the individual packaging film may remain adhered to the slice after the wrapper has been removed. If the film sticks to the slice and is not removed, it could potentially cause a choking hazard.”

There have been three reports of people choking on the plastic and ten overall complaints about the packaging.


The main products of the recall are the 3-pound and 4-pound sizes of Kraft Singles American and White American pasteurized prepared cheese product. They feature a ‘Best When Used By’ date of Dec. 29, 2015.

Consumers are advised to return the item to the store if they purchased the recalled cheese product. There, they can exchange it or receive a full refund. Folks in the US and Puerto Rico can also contact Kraft Consumer Relations at 1-800-432-3101 on Monday through Friday at 9am to 6pm for a full refund.

Kraft also apologizes for disappointing consumers with its packaging.


Packaged Food

Kraft Has Plans To Remove The Artificial Colorings From Their Mac & Cheese


Orange and blue have become synonymous with the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese brand. The bright orange, derived from synthetic coloring, is now set to undergo some natural changes.

Beginning next year, Original Kraft Macaroni & Cheese will replace colors Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 with more natural ingredients. The brand said in a statement that they’ll be using paprika, annatto and turmeric in its Macaroni & Cheese to replicate that famous bright orange coloring.

The big change is set to take place in 2016 because Kraft will need the rest of the year to figure out a recipe that both keeps the color and doesn’t affect flavor.

Yellow 5 and Yellow 6, known as Tartrazine and Orange Yellow, are synthetic lemon dyes that are added to food for color. They’ve been known to cause asthma and hyperactivity in children.


Massive $40 Billion Merger Will Bring Kraft Foods and Heinz Ketchup Together


Kraft Foods Group is set to be purchased by a Brazilian private equity firm for what is said to be $40 billion. The deal between the food manufacturer and the firm known as 3G Capital Partners is in advanced talks, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The last year hasn’t been too kind to Kraft. The company was reported to have lost $398 million in its fourth quarter due to poor sales. In February, Kraft’s CFO officially stepped down along with two other executives.

Some of the snack brands Kraft Foods Group is known for are Oscar Mayer, Kool Aid, Jello, Cool Whip and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.

In 2014, HJ Heinz was also purchased by 3G. If the merger goes as planned, it will become third the largest packaged food business in the United States.

The new company will be called Kraft Heinz Company.


RECALL: Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Packages Could Contain Metal

Certain boxes of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese may possibly contain small pieces of metal, according to a breaking news release from the folks at the popular packaged goods company.

So we don’t miss anything, here’s the full release from the Kraft Foods Group:

NORTHFIELD, Ill., March 17, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — Kraft Foods Group is voluntarily recalling approximately 242,000 cases of select code dates and manufacturing codes of the Original flavor of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner – due to the possibility that some boxes may contain small pieces of metal. The recalled product is limited to the 7.25-oz. size of the Original flavor of boxed dinner with the “Best When Used By” dates of September 18, 2015 through October 11, 2015, with the code “C2” directly below the date on each individual box.  The “C2” refers to a specific production line on which the affected product was made.

Some of these products have also been packed in multi-pack units that have a range of different code dates and manufacturing codes on the external packaging (box or shrink-wrap), depending on the package configuration (see table below).

Recalled product was shipped to customers in the U.S. and several other countries, excluding Canada.  The affected dates of this product were sold in only these four configurations:

7.25 oz. box, Original flavor

3-pack box of those 7.25 oz. boxes, Original flavor

4-pack  shrink-wrap of those 7.25 oz. boxes, Original flavor

5-pack shrink-wrap of those 7.25 oz. boxes, Original flavor

The following are being recalled:


No other sizes, varieties or pasta shapes and no other packaging configurations are included in this recall. And no products with manufacturing codes other than “C2” below the code date on the individual box are included in this recall.

Kraft has received eight consumer contacts about this product from the impacted line within this range of code dates and no injuries have been reported. We deeply regret this situation and apologize to any consumers we have disappointed.

The recalled product was shipped by Kraft to customers nationwide in the U.S.  The product was also distributed to Puerto Rico and some Caribbean and South American countries — but not to Canada.

Consumers who purchased this product should not eat it.  They should return it to the store where purchased for an exchange or full refund.  Consumers also can contact Kraft Foods Consumer Relations at 1-800-816-9432 between 9 am and 6 pm (Eastern) for a full refund.



Fast Food

McDonald’s Coffee to Hit Store Shelves


The battle for fast food breakfast supremacy has been fierce. Whether it’s Taco Bell stepping up its breakfast burrito game, Chick-Fil-A presenting some fancy new coffee, or Jack in the Box releasing their Croissant Donuts, everyone’s trying to one-up each other.

Now it’s McDonald’s turn. Again. In early 2015, we’ll be able to buy bag-fulls of McDonald’s branded coffee as they’ve teamed up with Kraft to put it in store shelves.

CNN reported that the McCafe branded coffee flavors such as premium roast, French vanilla and hazelnut will be available and will be compatible with Keurig home brewers.

McDonald’s senior vice president Greg Watson said there was a huge demand for “at-home” options and that it was the obvious next step in their coffee evolution.

In the recent breakfast dog fight, McDonald’s has tested a chorizo breakfast burritos, given out free coffee, and have even considered extending their breakfast hours. Now they’ll try to make themselves at home, in our homes.

Kraft is the lowkey player in this, but they also teamed with Starbucks when the coffee juggernaut began selling its own at-home coffee selections.

So, if you’re not into waiting in ridiculous drive-thru lines for your morning coffee, there’ll soon be another option.