Chemicals in Cereal?

In late June, Kellogg’s recalled some 28 million boxes of certain cereals, including Apple Jacks, Corn Pops, Froot Loops, and Honey Smacks, after about 20 complaints of bad tastes or smells. A month later, the company reported that the smell had come from elevated levels of hydrocarbons in the cereals’ packaging, including one called methylnaphthalene, which has yet to be evaluated for human carcinogenicity.

In a public statement, Kellogg’s said, “We completed a thorough health-risk assessment with external experts in medicine, toxicology, public health, chemistry, and food safety. The experts agree that some consumers are particularly sensitive to these uncharacteristic off-tastes and smells and may have temporary symptoms, like nausea and diarrhea, which should subside shortly. These symptoms are a result of the off-taste and odor in the food; they are not caused by any harmful material in the food.”

But the Environmental Working Group (EWG) said the recall raises serious concerns, noting in a July 12 research report that methylnaphthalene is structurally similar to naphthalene, which was the primary component in mothballs until those products were reformulated due to toxicity concerns.

“In light of the lack of information on the safety of this chemical, EWG calls on Kellogg’s to disclose the exact chemical composition and concentration of methylnaphthalene and any other compounds that leach from the cereal packaging, and to make public its safety data and its assessment of human health risks to those who were exposed. We call on FDA to do the same,” said EWG’s report.

“It’s surprising that such a large number of boxes were contaminated,” said Michael Doyle, PhD, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia in Griffin. “I know that Kellogg’s has been doing a lot of in-depth research to better understand the situation and is sharing that information with the rest of the industry, which is critical so that this can be prevented in the future.”

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