Cash-strapped millennial parents can rest easy. It turns out that the viral New York Times’ story claiming that boxed mac-and-cheese is toxic is just another nothingburger.
The mainstream media has grown accustomed to publishing sensationalist pieces from unvetted sources, and this shock story is the latest example. The article, entitled “The Chemicals in Your Mac and Cheese,” argues that toxic chemicals called phthalates “may still be present in high concentrations” in “macaroni and cheese mixes made with powdered cheeses.”
Phthalates are found in the powder’s packaging and apparently end up in the powder when it comes into contact with plastic. These chemicals, the article notes, “can disrupt male hormones like testosterone and have been linked to genital birth defects in infant boys and learning and behavior problems in older children.”
This story is enough to frighten any millennial who grew up on the cheesy goodness and especially those who might be serving the boxed food to their kids. Millennial parents represent a major sector of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese consumers, who purchased more than 50 million boxes in the first quarter of 2016 alone. Needless to say, this hit piece on boxed mac-and-cheese left many uneasy.
The problem is that the article was completely misleading — so misleading that even the uber-liberal outlet Slate ripped the Times for it.
“The story is incomplete at best and fear mongering at worst,” Slate argues. “It’s a piece about toxicity, but there is one glaring omission: dosage, or an explanation of how much phthalate exposure is dangerous to human health.”
The Times’ story notes that the study found “high levels” in all of the mac-and-cheese products that were tested, but offers no point of reference whatsoever for what’s considered toxic.
Slate writer Susan Matthews interviewed an associate professor of pediatrics, who noted that “you’d probably need to eat multiple boxes a day to start seeing clear negative health effects.”
Most importantly, Matthews attacks the credibility of the source.
“It’s worth noting that this study was published not in an academic journal but on an advocacy site called kleanupkraft.org,” she notes. “I’m not saying that all information has to be published in a peer-reviewed journal to be valid, but the basic standards that apply to scientific publishing would have helped provide answers to critical questions that are left hanging.”
Matthews admits that consumers have a right to know the chemicals in their food and should keep a “close eye” on the government’s regulatory practices, but slams The New York Times and other outlets for turning “preliminary research into news stories that scare people—particularly pregnant women.”