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Health experts have found concerning levels of lead, phthalates, and sodium in popular lunch kits made by well-known brands such as Lunchables and Armour LunchMakers.

Consumer Reports, a nonprofit consumer organization dedicated to independent product testing, analyzed 12 lunch and snack kits purchased from stores to assess lead and sodium levels in each package. The nonprofit found alarming levels of lead in three different types of Lunchables: turkey and cheddar with crackers, pepperoni pizza and the cheese pizza snack brand.

The Lunchables turkey and cheddar snack skit contained the highest levels of lead and sodium, 74% and 49%, respectively. The brand’s pepperoni and pizza offering contained 73% lead and 45% sodium, while the cheese pizza kit contained 69% lead and 34% sodium. 

Armour LunchMakers, a product line under the well-known food provider Smithfield Foods, was found to have elevated levels of lead and sodium. Specifically, the brand’s Cracker Crunchers Ham & American Snack Kit contained 69% lead and 34% sodium.

Oscar Mayer, P3, and Target’s Good and Gather snack kits were also found to have concerning levels of lead, heavy metals and sodium.

In addition to lead and high sodium, experts from Consumer Reports also found cadmium and phthalates in most of the lunch kits tested.

Cadmium, a white metal found in zinc ores, has been linked to developmental problems in children and can cause hypertension and kidney damage in adults over time — even in small amounts.

Phthalates, chemicals used to make plastic more durable, can impair brain development in children and lead to behavioral disorders, Harvard noted. 

Consumer Reports observed that although none of the kits surpassed any legal or regulatory thresholds, five out of the 12 tested items would subject an individual to 50% or more of California’s maximum allowable levels for lead and heavy metals. California’s standards are currently the strictest, as there are no federal regulations for heavy metals in most food products.

“None of the products exceeded any regulatory limits, but many researchers think those limits are far too permissive, given the emerging research about phthalates harms,” Eric Boring, one of the leading chemists behind Consumer Reports recent study, said.

“For example, DEHP, one of the better-studied phthalates, is linked to reproductive issues, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and other health problems at levels far below those set by regulators.”

Numerous snack kits frequently include detrimental preservatives, such as sodium nitrite, utilized to prolong shelf life and improve the flavor and texture of processed meats. Sodium nitrite has been associated with the presence of cancer-causing compounds known as nitrosamines.

Boring added, “We don’t think anybody should regularly eat these products, and they definitely shouldn’t be considered a healthy school lunch.”

Even the so-called “healthy” snack kit options are unhealthy.

For the 2023-2024 school year, the National School Lunch Program introduced two Lunchables products: Turkey and Cheddar Cracker Stacker and Extra Cheesy Pizza. These offerings are tailored to meet program guidelines and feature a specialized recipe with increased protein and whole grains, reduced saturated fat and sodium, and larger serving sizes.

Consumer Reports did not assess these school-approved versions for heavy metals or phthalates. However, after analyzing their nutrition information, they cautioned that these products have higher salt content than those available in stores.

Kraft Heinz, the parent company of Lunchables, Oscar Mayer, and P3, asserted the safety of their food products, stating that they were free from harmful levels of lead and heavy metals.

 “All our foods meet strict safety standards,” Kraft Heinz told Consumer Reports. “Lead and cadmium occur naturally in the environment and may be present in low levels in food products.”

Similarly, Armour LunchMakers maintained that they adhere to “strict programs and policies that promote food safety and quality in every step of our value chain.” 


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