A proposed class action alleges boxes of Kraft Mac & Cheese are misleadingly labeled in that they fail to disclose that the ubiquitous product contains, or is at risk of containing, “ortho-phthalates,” or “phthalates,” supposedly harmful chemicals linked to an array of adverse health effects.
The 41-page lawsuit claims the Kraft Heinz Company has intentionally chosen not to reference anything related to phthalates on boxes of Kraft Mac & Cheese while instead presenting the products as wholesome and healthy. As a result, reasonable consumers have been led to believe the mac and cheese is free from “dangerous chemicals” linked to “concerning” cumulative consumption effects, the complaint, filed in Illinois federal court, says.
The case argues that although Kraft Heinz makes no mention of phthalates on boxes of Kraft Mac & Cheese, the food heavyweight acknowledges online that the chemicals are found in many food products and that the company is seeking to learn “how phthalates may be introduced into certain products and if there is anything else we can do to reduce or eliminate them.” The statements about phthalates on the Kraft Mac & Cheese website amount to “an admission by the Defendant that it is information a reasonable consumer would consider important,” the suit says, “[y]et no information about the presence (or risk) of phthalates in the Kraft Mac & Cheese Products is disclosed anywhere on the packaging.”
According to the lawsuit, there exists “increasing scientific evidence” linking exposure to phthalates to “harmful health outcomes,” with dairy found to be “a major source of exposure.” Per the suit, fatty, processed foods generally pose the greatest risk of exposure to phthalates, and the lawsuit states that the cumulative effect of phthalate exposure is troublesome in that studies have shown “one in five American adults eats 81 percent of their calories from ultra-processed foods,” including powdered mac and cheese products.
Phthalates, more specifically, are classified as endocrine-disrupting chemicals, the suit says. According to the case, studies have found that phthalate exposure in adult populations has an association with markers of testicular function in men, in particular with regard to decreased semen quality. Further, there exists evidence linking endometriosis in women to high phthalate metabolite levels, and increases in waist circumference and body mass index “have been linked to exposure in men and adolescent and adult females,” the lawsuit says.
The case goes on to relay that “scientific findings” have shown that prenatal exposure to phthalates is “highly dangerous to the fetus and leads to multiple harms once the children are born, including neurodevelopmental problems such as ADHD, anti-social behavior, learning and memory problems, and genital birth defects in boys.”
Overall, reasonable consumers trust companies like Kraft Heinz to sell food that is not only healthy but free from toxins, contaminants and chemicals, the suit stresses.
“Reasonable consumers, like Plaintiffs, certainly expect the food they eat and feed their family to be free from phthalates, substances known to have health consequences,” the case reads, stressing that buyers “lack the scientific knowledge” to determine whether Kraft Mac & Cheese contains, or might contain, phthalates or “other undesirable toxins or contaminants.”
At the center of the lawsuit is a 2017 study conducted by the non-profit Coalition for Safer Food Processing and Packaging that concluded that phthalates were found in all 10 of the varieties of macaroni and cheese products tested. The study found that the phthalate levels in the 10 products, on average, were more than four times higher than in 15 natural cheeses tested, which included block cheese, string cheese, cottage cheese and shredded cheese, the suit says.
While the study did not publicly identify the brands for which the cheese powder was tested, the Coalition, in a public letter dated June 14, 2017 and sent to Kraft’s chief executive officer, urged the company to “eliminate toxic industrial chemicals known as ortho-phthalates from your food products,” the lawsuit says.
In a statement to Law360, Kraft railed against the allegations in the proposed class action, telling the publication that “there is no merit to this lawsuit nor any indication that plaintiffs tested our products before filing suit.” Kraft added that the company “take[s] questions about food safety and quality very seriously, and our Kraft Macaroni and Cheese products are sage for consumers to enjoy,” Law360 wrote.
The lawsuit, which echoes a case filed over General Mills-owned Annie’s Homegrown mac and cheese products, looks to represent all consumers who, during the applicable statute of limitations period, bought Kraft Mac & Cheese products in the United States for personal and/or household use, and not for resale. The suit also proposes to cover “subclasses” consisting of consumers in Florida and New York who fit the same criteria as the nationwide “class.”
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