Consumer Reports is calling the U.S. Department of Agriculture to task for allowing Lunchables on the National School Lunch Program menu. The request to remove the popular ready-to-eat snack comes after testing found high levels of sodium and the presence of harmful chemicals, including lead.

“We are urging USDA to remove Lunchables as an option for school kids in the school lunch program,” said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy for Consumer Reports, in a written statement. “Lunchables are not a healthy option for kids and shouldn’t be allowed on the menu” as part of the program.

The National School Lunch Program feeds close to 30 million children.

The USDA allows two Lunchables options on the school lunch menu nationally: Turkey & Cheddar Cracker Stackers and Extra Cheesy Pizza. To be included, Kraft Heinz modified the Lunchable kits, adding more grains to the crackers and extra protein compared to store-bought versions.

Consumer Reports, often called simply CR, is a nonprofit organization that tests products to help consumers make wise choices. It compared nutritional profiles of two Lunchable kits that are served to students, finding they contain even more sodium than the versions available in stores. The group also tested 12 store-bought versions of meat, cracker and cheese kits and reported that “several contained relatively high levels of lead and cadmium. All but one also tested positive for phthalates, (which are) chemicals found in plastic that have been linked to reproductive problems, diabetes and certain cancers,” Consumer Reports said.

In response to the criticism, USDA told CNN this week that it “takes very seriously our responsibility to ensure school meals are of the highest nutritional quality.” But the government agency also noted in the statement that it doesn’t look at individual foods, but the overall content of a meal. “So the Lunchables described in the article would need to be paired with fruit, vegetables and milk. In addition, a school who wanted to serve a higher sodium product one day has to balance that with lower sodium items on others.”

Also per CNN, “Kraft Heinz told CNN in a statement Tuesday the company has taken steps to improve the nutrition profile of Lunchables. The effort, it said, includes launching Lunchables with fresh fruit, in partnership with Fresh Del Monte, and ‘reducing the sodium in all Lunchables crackers by 26%.’”

“All our foods meet strict safety standards that we happily feed to our own families. We are proud of Lunchables and stand by the quality and integrity that goes into making them,” the company said.

What Consumer Reports tested

CR tested store-bought Lunchables and similar kits from Armour LunchMakers, Good & Gather, Greenfield Natural Meat Co., and Oscar Mayer and found lead, cadmium, or both in all. Lead and cadmium can cause developmental problems in children over time, even in small amounts. While none of the kits exceeded any federal limit, five of the 12 tested products would expose someone to 50% or more of California’s maximum allowable level for lead or cadmium — currently the most protective standard” in the U.S., per the company’s release.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has emphasized the risk that lead poses to young children especially, noting there is no safe level.

CR said it didn’t find phthalates in the Lunchable Extra Cheesy Pizza, but found them in at least one of the other products. “Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors, compounds that may mimic or interfere with hormones in the body,” the group said, noting phthalates have been linked to possible increased risk of reproductive problems, diabetes, obesity, heart disease and other health challenges. “As with heavy metals, the goal should be to keep exposure as low as possible.”

The testing found sodium levels in the store-bought kits ranged from 460-740 milligrams per serving, or almost 25% of a child’s daily limit based on federal nutrition guidelines. The school lunch versions, with more meat, had higher levels. “The school version of the Turkey and Cheddar Lunchable for schools contained 930 mg of sodium compared to 740 mg in the store-bought version. Similarly, the Lunchable pizza kit for schools had 700 mg of sodium compared to 510 mg in the store version,” per the release.

The group noted that too much sodium can cause high blood pressure, which in turn is linked to heart disease, stroke and kidney damage.

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