The go-to cheat for feeding your kids—Lunchables—has lead in it, and maker Kraft says it is a naturally occurring part of food products



The fun, colorful packaging aimed at kids and the ease of use for parents makes it hard to accept that Lunchables actually contain harmful heavy metals and chemicals that could have negative health effects.

A study by Consumer Reports this week found that several versions of name brand Lunchables and generic lookalikes contained lead and cadmium, which have been linked to health problems in both children and adults. Of the 12 store-bought Lunchables and Lunchable-style products the nonprofit tested, every single one contained either one or both of the heavy metals. Although none of the products ran afoul of the law with the levels of heavy metals in their products, experts say that even low doses of lead and cadmium can affect child development and have been linked to increased risk of hypertension, kidney damage, and other health issues in adults.

While there is no national standard limit on the amount of heavy metals that can be found in most foods, Consumer Reports measured lead levels as a percentage of the California maximum allowable dose level (MADL)—the most rigorous in the country. 

Lunchables maker The Kraft Heinz company told Consumer Reports that its products “meet strict safety standards” and added that “lead and cadmium occur naturally in the environment and may be present in low levels in food products.” The company did not immediately respond to Fortune’s requests for comment.

Although lead and cadmium are naturally found in the environment, the researchers conducting Consumer Reports’ study said that the levels of lead found in the products it tested were relatively high for its small serving sizes.

The highest lead levels were found in Lunchables Turkey and Cheddar Cracker Stackers, which contained 74% of the maximum allowable dose level for lead in California. That product was followed closely by Lunchables Pizza with Pepperoni, which contained 73% of the allowable level for lead. In total, five of the 12 products tested by Consumer Reports contained more than 50% of the maximum allowable dose level for lead. Apart from The Kraft Heinz Company, the other products with more than 50% of the maximum allowable dose level for lead were produced by Smithfield’s Armour LunchMakers and Target’s Good & Gather brand. 

Smithfield Foods said in a statement to Fortune that it follows “strict programs and policies that promote food safety and quality in every step of our value chain.” A spokesperson for Target told Fortune in a statement, “We require our products to comply with all applicable federal, state and local requirements.”

Although The Kraft Heinz Company doesn’t break out sales for Lunchables specifically, “Real Food Snacking,” the business category it shares with products like nuts, seeds, and trail mix, brought in $1.2 billion in net sales for the company in 2023. That’s about 4.7% of the company’s total net sales of just over $26.6 billion for its most recent fiscal year.

Although Lunchables targets kids with funny and entertaining advertisements, the researchers behind the Consumer Reports study said they’re not necessarily the fun go-to meal they’re made out to be. 

“We don’t think anybody should regularly eat these products, and they definitely shouldn’t be considered a healthy school lunch,” Eric Boring, a chemist who led the study, told Consumer Reports.

Besides lead and cadmium, the study also found phthalates, a group of chemicals used to make plastics more durable, in all but one of the products it tested. Phthalates go hand-in-hand with modern processed foods partly through their packaging and are not necessarily specific to Lunchables. 

But, while they may be widespread in the American food system, phthalates found in the products studied are linked to elevated health risks that include reproductive problems, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers, according to Consumer Reports. 

“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,” Boring said.

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