Parmesan Cheese May Contain Wood Pulp, FDA Warns

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning that cheese labeled as “100 percent Parmesan” may actually contain wood pulp and other substitutes. According to Bloomberg, companies such as Castle Cheese Inc. have been falsely labeling their cheese products as 100 percent Parmesan. In fact, an FDA probe found that Castle’s Parmesan cheese has contained no actual Parmesan for nearly 30 years. Meanwhile, the product was sold in megastores such as Target. Michelle Myrter, Caste President, is scheduled to plead guilty to criminal charges this month in court, where she faces up to one year in prison at a $100,000 fine.

Instead of Parmesan, the FDA found that the Castle cheese consisted of Swiss, mozzarella, white cheddar and cellulose. Cellulose is made from wood pulp. It is frequently used an an anti-clumping agent. According to Dean Sommer, a cheese technologist at the Center for Dairy Research in Madison, Wisconsin, cellulose is safe and is acceptable at levels of 2 to 4 percent.

Experiments conducted by Bloomberg tested for levels of cellulose in various grated Parmesan products. Jewel-Osco’s Essential Everyday 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese contained 8.8 percent cellulose. Bloomberg also found 7.8 percent cellulose in Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Great Value 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese. Kraft’s Parmesan cheese contained 3.8 percent cellulose. Whole Foods 365 brand had 0.3 percent.

Arthur Schuman runs Schuman’s Fairfield, the largest seller of hard Italian cheeses in the country. He estimates that up to 20 percent of these products are mislabeled. “The tipping point was grated cheese, where less than 40 percent of the product was actually a cheese product,” he said, according to Bloomberg. “Consumers are innocent, and they’re not getting what they bargained for. And that’s just wrong.”

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