Lunchables Contain High Levels of Lead and Sodium

A Consumer Reports analysis found that Lunchables and other prepackaged lunch kits contain high amounts of salt and lead, cadmium, and one endocrine-disrupting chemical.

Lunchables are convenient yet highly processed food products consisting of deli meats, crackers, and cheese. These meal kits are popular among children, and slightly modified versions are even part of some school lunch programs.

However, a new analysis by the non-profit consumer group Consumer Reports suggests they might not be the safest lunch or snack choice.

Consumer Reports tested 12 versions of Lunchables from Oscar Mayer, Armour LunchMakers, Good & Gather (Target), and Greenfield Natural Meat for sodium, lead, and other heavy metals and chemicals used in plastic manufacturing called phthalates. The team also tested school lunch versions of the popular snack kits.

While testing revealed that none of the lunch kits exceeded any legal or regulatory limit, some contained lead at levels up to 74% of California's maximum allowable dose level (MADL), and sodium at amounts up to 50% of the U.S. Dietary Guideline recommendations for 4- to 8-year-old children.

Overall, five of the 12 food products had lead or cadmium levels at 50% or more of California's MADL.

Consumer Reports says that while Lunchables kits only provide an 8-year-old child a small percentage of the calories they need daily, consuming one kit could put a child close to the daily maximum limit for lead.

In addition to heavy metals, every lunch kit tested except for Lunchables Extra Cheesy Pizza contained at least one type of phthalate at levels up to 7,412 nanograms per serving. Phthalates are endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in plastics that may contribute to a wide range of health conditions.

Food manufacturers often modify the ingredients of their products to meet school lunch program requirements, such as adding whole grains or increasing protein.

Although the team did not test school lunch program versions of Lunchables for heavy metals or phthalates, they reviewed nutritional information and ingredients and found that school versions of Lunchables Turkey and Cheddar Cracker Stackers and Extra Cheesy Pizza had higher sodium levels than store-bought versions.

According to Consumer Reports, Kraft Heinz, the parent company for Lunchables, Oscar Mayer, and P3, said, "All our foods meet strict safety standards, and lead and cadmium occur naturally in the environment and may be present in low levels in food products."

Smithfield Foods, manufacturer of Armour LunchMakers, said it adheres to "strict programs and policies that promote food safety and quality in every step of our value chain."

Target, maker of Good & Gather lunch kits, did not respond to Consumer Reports' request for comment.

However, to address high sodium levels, Kraft Heinz and Maple Leaf Foods, the parent company of Greenfield Natural Meat, are working towards reducing the amount of salt in their lunch and snack kits.

In light of the testing results, Consumer Reports has petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), urging the federal agency to remove Lunchables processed food kits from the National School Lunch Program and provide American school children with healthier food choices. As of April 11, the petition has collected more than 16,000 signatures.

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