Annie’s Product Redesign: A Case for Ethics and Safety

April 24, 2021
Annie’s Product Redesign: A Case for Ethics and Safety

Annie’s Homegrown organic Mac and Cheese products came under scrutiny because very small traces of phthalates were found in the dairy products and packaging it uses.  Other U.S. cheese products have faced similar findings.

Some research suggests that phthalates can be linked to problems with male fertility and the health of babies, including neurodevelopment and behavioral problems.  While the levels found are below the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA’s) thresholds for human consumption, Annie’s is nevertheless committed to continuing to review the research in this area and help find ways to deal with this issue.

Video Spotlight: 

This post is based on the Food Packaging Forum article, Annie’s to eliminate phthalates from products, packaging, by Vanessa Srebny, February 23, 2021; the Fox News article, Annie’s removing a chemical in mac and cheese linked to fertility issues, by Kayla Rivas, February 26, 2021; and the YouTube video in the Spotlight. Image source: FoodCollection

Discussion Questions:

1. What is value analysis and how does it pertain to this issue?

Guidance: Value analysis is the process of periodically reviewing the ingredients, materials, components, and packaging used in the production of goods with an eye towards improvement.  Improvements may relate to lower costs, better functionality, improved sustainability, and improved customer satisfaction, to name a few.

In this case, as part of the value analysis process for its macaroni and cheese products, General Mills, which owns Annie’s Homegrown, has committed to working towards a solution for eradicating phthalates from its food and packaging.  Phthalates, used to make plastics flexible, have been found in a wide range of products in the food supply industry, including farm equipment and packaging ink.  They have already been banned from many children’s toys, but can still be commonly found in food, personal hygiene products, and makeup.

2.  What role do ethics and safety play in this product redesign, and product and service design in general?

Guidance: The FDA has not issued safety guidelines for the amount of phthalates that can be present in foods.  Nevertheless, General Mills, as well as many other makers of macaroni and cheese foods and other products are committed to trying to improve the safety of their products.

When designing products and services, just because something is legal to make and sell doesn’t mean it is also ethical.  In many industries, some safety standards are still left to the discretion of manufacturers who self-regulate and use informed judgment to decide what to include or exclude in the development of their products.

In this case, not only are there no FDA guidelines, but the levels of phthalates currently found in Annie’s Mac and Cheese are below the European Food Safety Authority’s rules of less than 0.05 mg/kg of body weight.  Thus, by European standards, there is nothing inherently unethical or unsafe about its products.  Nevertheless, General Mills and many others in the food and personal care products industries are self-regulating to a higher standard to seek safer and more sustainable product designs for their consumers and the unborn as well.


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