It turns out that some manufacturers are selling Parmesan products labeled as 100 percent pure with dairy, er, nary an ounce of actual Parmesan in it. Instead, these cheeses are packed with cheaper alternatives like cheddar. Even more frightening, an independent lab test found that well-known labels are throwing in quadruple the acceptable levels of cellulose, an anti-clumping derivative of wood pulp. And the FDA has had enough.
In an investigation dating all the way back to 2012, the FDA followed a tip that led them to Castle Cheese Inc. The company was found to be substituting cheaper cheeses for their labeled Parm and adding in cellulose as filler. The tip led them all the way up to the big cheese, CEO Michelle Myrter, who is expected to plead guilty this month and face up to a year in prison and $100,000 in fines.
Castle Cheese is not the only offender, however. Bloomberg performed their own investigation into four different brands of potentially shady shavings and found that two of them contained nearly four times the acceptable levels of cellulose. According to their independently lab-tested results Essential Everyday 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese by Jewel-Osco and Great Value 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. registered 8.8 and 7.8 percent cellulose, respectively. Cellulose is considered a “safe” food additive when levels are between 2 and 4 percent. The other brands, Whole Foods 365 (who does not list cellulose at all in its ingredient list) and Kraft came in at .3 and 3.8 percent. All companies have commented that they are looking into the matter.
The fact that the FDA is taking on this type of disingenuous behavior by food companies is surprising, seeing as they usually only act when public safety is at risk. This may be changing as consumer demand to know what is in their food continues to grow.