A substance that most of us cannot pronounce, has caused Kellogg’s to recall more than 28 million boxes of its popular cereals such as Froot Loops, Apple Jacks, Corn Pops, and Honey Smacks. The recall came from consumers complaining of a funny smell, nausea and diarrhea, and a wax-like taste from cereal boxes. Kellogg representatives have found that the compound, methylnaphthalene, has been the subject of major, on-going government and oil industry testing.
“We have identified a substance in the package liners that can produce an uncharacteristic waxy-like taste and smell,” said Kellogg’s spokeswomen J. Adaire Putnam. “Consumers report a variety of tastes and smells, including those that are stale, metal, and soap-like.”
David Mackay, president and chief executive officer for Kellogg’s says that, “efforts have been made to have the products removed from store shelves and we are working diligently to ensure that the affected products are rapidly removed from the marketplace.”
Kellogg chemists have determined that the “off-taste and smell” was caused by methylnaphthalene, which had leached into the cereal from the package liner. Kellogg’s said that the compound is classified by the FDA as “generally recognized as safe,” but was unable to locate it on the FDA’s website.
Methylnaphthalene, which has two forms, is a component of crude oil and coal tar and may also be formed as a pyrolytic byproduct from the combustion of tobacco, wood, petroleum-based fuels and coal. According to the EPA, the petroleum-based compound is produced in enormous quantities in the United States and health agencies know very little about its safety.
Kellogg’s was quick to recall its tainted cereals, but as a consumer, it is shocking to find out how much of what we eat and buy may be dangerous to us, and how little the FDA is actually keeping track of the chemicals corporations add to food packaging. Companies and the FDA have the obligation to follow up on what chemicals are being placed in products. It is imperative that we know how a chemical made its way into the cereal and how safe it is or is not, for consumers; especially children, who are the most common target market for the types of cereals recalled.
Once again, this recall questions concerning the troubled FDA and its ability to evaluate and regulate safety of food packaging. Methylnaphthalene gives off a strong taste and odor at low levels and it is easy for people to know its presence by how it affects the products it contaminates. However, other additives commonly placed in foods are not so obvious.
Food packaging is already under scrutiny because of recent concerns over bisphenol A (BPA) on metal food cans, jar lids on baby foods, formulas, and other canned goods. The FDA admits that “the current regulatory structure limits its oversight and flexibility in responding to the issue of BPA in food packaging.” The agency also does not know how many foods contain BPA, nor can it determine who is using petroleum waxes, such as methylnaphthalene, in packaging.
The bottom line is this: food safety laws must be strengthened to ensure that the FDA can set heftier standards for chemicals used in packaging and must have the authority to enforce and regulate them. Companies should also be required to test for chemicals leaching from their packaging, report the results to the FDA, and make the information readily available to consumers.