Several Grated Parmesan Cheese Products Contain Wood Pulp, Bloomberg Investigation Finds

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Several popular parmesan cheese brands do not contain 100 percent real cheese, and are actually partly made of cellulose — a filler made out of wood pulp that is legal in small amounts — according to an investigation published by Bloomberg on Tuesday.

Bloomberg began testing various grated parmesan cheese products after the Food and Drug Administration sent a letter to Pennsylvania’s Castle Cheese Inc. stating, “Your Parmesan cheese products do not contain any parmesan cheese.”

Three years after the letter was sent,  Castle President Michelle Myrter is scheduled to plead guilty in February to criminal charges, and faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

This is because the FDA discovered that Castle was cramming its parmesan cheese with lower-quality substitutes (e.g., Swiss, mozzarella, white cheddar) and cellulose, then distributing it to grocery chains nationwide.

Following the FDA investigation, Bloomberg decided to pick up some store-bought grated cheese and have it tested by an independent lab.

The results showed many supermarkets’ parmesan cheese suffered from the same issue — although cellulose is considered a safe additive as long as it doesn’t exceed 4 percent of the final product, according to Dean Sommer, a cheese technologist at the Center for Dairy Research in Madison, Wisconsin.

Bloomberg found the following:

  • Walmart grated parmesan came in at 7.8 percent cellulose
  • Essential Everyday 100 percent Grated Parmesan Cheese, from Jewel-Osco, registered at 8.8 percent
  • Whole Foods 365 brand, which didn’t list cellulose as an ingredient on the label, tested at 0.3 percent
  • Kraft had 3.8 percent

Bloomberg also obtained the FDA’s Castle report through a Freedom of Information Act request and found “no parmesan cheese was used to manufacture” either a Target Market Pantry brand or two versions sold by Associated Wholesale Grocers — which appeared confusing to Target, as a rep told Bloomberg that Castle has never been one of its vendors. Target officials said they’re looking into it.

But why are the cheesemakers doing this?

Money, it appears.

“The bad guys win and the rule-followers lose,” the executive VP of Cheese Merchants of America said, adding that competitors with subpar products often underbid him by up to 30 percent. (The FDA went after cheesemakers for their wooden aging racks a couple of years back.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: That Grated Parm on Your Pasta May Be 9% Wood

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