The cheese industry is under the microscope now after a Bloomberg story discovered the use of wood pulp, known also as cellulose, in cheese products manufactured in the United States.
A Pennsylvania company, Castle Cheese, was the focus of a recent investigation by the FDA. The FDA found that Castle Cheese Parmesan was not truly parmesan, instead a mix of low grade cheddar and wood pulp. While the focus has been on the wood pulp being found in the cheese mix, it’s not the root of the problem. Wood pulp is actually a fairly common additive in foods. The true issue was the legality of how the products were improperly labeled. The FDA requires that Parmesan must have each ingredient listed on the label, aside from enzymes which can actually be made of a myriad of different types of enzymes.
Cellulose grew in popularity in the 1970s when it became a popular food additive due to an increase in consumers who wanted more fiber in their diet. It’s not necessarily harmful, it is more just a cheap filler that adds bulk to the product and profits for the company that makes it. It turns out that it doesn’t even offer much in the way of fiber, you should probably stick to whole wheat anyway. Cellulose is digested differently in the body, whole wheat offers vitamins and other things that can be healthy, cellulose is simply a filler that passes through the body.
So while it doesn’t offer any real health benefits, it is up to the consumer to know what is in their products and what they are consuming. It is unfair for companies to market a cheese when it is not made of that particular cheese and is full of what is essentially sawdust. It is adulterating the product, mis-branding, and taking away business from companies that do it right.
Just last month, Wal-Mart was the center of a lawsuit by a consumer who claims the Great Value brand “100% Grated Parmesan Cheese” was found to contain 10 percent cellulose, making it not 100% parmesan cheese. A similar lawsuit was filed against Kraft brand in California for similar reasons.
As of this week, a federal judge sentenced the company behind Castle Cheese brand with a hefty $500,000 fine for mislabeling. Back in October, Michelle Myrter, former executive for Castle Cheese, was sentenced to 3 years probation and a $5,000 fine after she pled guilty to food adulteration.