A few weeks ago Kellogg’s recalled 4 of its best selling cereals due to a strange and unidentified smell coming from the packaging. Almost 30 million boxes were pulled off the shelves due to a strange odor that caused some people to feel nauseous. Now we know the cause – turns out it’s a chemical in the packaging called methylnaphthalene.
What you need to know:
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit research organization based in Washington D.C., said methylnaphthalene is not man’s best friend, to say the least:
Methylnaphthalene, which comes in two forms, is a component of crude oil and coal tar …The petroleum-based compound is produced in enormous quantities in the United States, and health agencies know very little about its safety…
The latest EPA records show that companies have been producing the chemical since at least 1986, currently in amounts of 1 million to 10 million pounds per year. Numerous health agencies have sought basic safety data on the compound, but the government still has very little information about this widely used chemical.
EWG senior scientist Dave Andrews had this to add:
“Millions of pounds are produced every year, and this chemical is turning up in the packaging for popular cereals marketed toward children. I think it’s important for federal public health agencies like the EPA and FDA to know everything there is to know about the possible risks this fossil fuel could pose to people’s health.”
The most worrisome conclusion from this episode is that even when we think we’re buying a healthy wholesome product (NOT the 4 sugar cereals above), the packaging itself could be causing us harm. With BPA in plastic bottles and lining cans, BHT and other preservatives added to foods to lengthen shelf life, it seems that there is a lot of risk that has nothing to with the food itself.
What to do at the supermarket:
One obvious conclusion is to buy less packaged food products. But this is not realistic for most of us, as 90% of products in the supermarket come in a box, can, or jar. At the extreme, some people forgo supermarkets altogether and buy from organic farms.
While most of us can’t live that kind of life, we can try to make small changes in our habits. If we start to cook more, we’ll be buying less processed, less packaged raw ingredients to work with. Try it.