If you'd like to live in a world made out of macaroni and cheese — a magical place where clock hands are made from elbow noodles and powdered cheese is pixie dust — please go read something else.
But if you’ve wondered if those lovably limp noodles slathered in mystery goop may be just a little too good to be true, well, you're right.
A new study suggests instant macaroni and cheese products are spawning grounds for decidedly unsavory chemicals called phthalates.
In the United States, these chemicals have been banned in rubber duck toys and children’s teething products for years, after research suggested they interfere with male hormones like testosterone, and lead to birth defects and learning disabilities in children.
But banning certain rubber products misses a much more insidious way that phthalates creep into our bodies: food packaging.
“Overall, food, beverages, and drugs via direct ingestion, and not children’s toys and their personal care products, constituted the highest phthalate exposures,” noted a 2014 report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Indeed, the chemicals slip into our bodies in the most seductive way possible — through the Technicolor temptation of a bowl of instant mac and cheese.
The new study, conducted by a coalition of four industry watch groups, concluded that among 30 cheese products sampled, instant macaroni packed the highest levels of phthalates in every box.
So how do they get in there?
No one actually adds phthalates to mac and cheese. Instead, the chemicals work their way into the powder from the packaging and manufacturing process. Even printed labels can seep phthalates into food. It’s next to impossible to guard against phthalates, considering they’re in everything from household cleaners to perfumes to packaging.
“The phthalate concentrations in powder from mac and cheese mixes were more than four times higher than in block cheese and other natural cheeses like shredded cheese, string cheese and cottage cheese,” Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, one of the groups behind the study, told the Times.
Even so-called organic brands of mac and cheese were found to be a riot of phthalates.
“Our belief is that it’s in every mac and cheese product — you can’t shop your way out of the problem,” Belliveau added.
Instead, the coalition is urging consumers to support measures that would ban phthalates in food packaging and labels.
Until that happens, what does this study mean for the mac-and-cheese munching masses?
No more pixie dust. Magic is dead — or at least it will take a little longer than five to seven minutes to conjure a bowl of it.
But as the recipes below show, thinking outside the box can lead to delicious new possibilities for macaroni and cheese lovers.