Authored by: Mahita Gajanan, February 2016
Original post in theguardian.com
The grocery store parmesan cheese in the green-topped plastic container you shake over pasta dishes contains non-dairy filler ingredients like wood pulp, according to a report from Bloomberg.
In 2012, the US Food and Drug Administration investigated the Pennsylvania cheese factory Castle Cheese Inc and found the company was doctoring its “100% real parmesan” with filler ingredients like wood pulp, or cheaper cheeses like cheddar, swiss and mozzarella.
Following the FDA’s findings, Bloomberg investigated other store-bought grated parmesan and discovered high percentages of cellulose – essentially powdered wood pulp and the main ingredient in paper – in four different brands.
Bloomberg found that “Essential Everyday 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, from Jewel-Osco, was 8.8% cellulose, while Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Great Value 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese registered 7.8%, according to test results. Whole Foods 365 brand didn’t list cellulose as an ingredient on the label, but still tested at 0.3%. Kraft had 3.8%.”
Dean Sommer, a cheese technologist at the Center for Dairy Research in Madison, Wisconsin, told Bloomberg that cellulose is a safe additive and an acceptable level is 2% to 4%.
Amy Bentley, a professor in the department of nutrition at New York University, said cellulose is not necessarily dangerous, and could possibly be healthy. Cellulose is considered to be a fiber and appears in some laxative products and drinks, she said. Bentley compared the grated parmesan to cheese products like Velveeta – not pure cheese, but still safe to consume.
“It could possibly be healthy, but people don’t usually think that grated cheese is where their source of fiber is coming from,” Bentley said. “Could it be toxic? I don’t think so.”
However, just because cellulose figures prominently in grated parmesan, people shouldn’t turn to it as a source for fiber intake, she said. “It’s cheese, it’s not Metamucil,” she said. “The cellulose in the cheese could be acting as a fiber – but that’s pushing it a little too far.”
The discovery of wood pulp in cheese is the latest in many food safety scandals and consumer fraud cases that call into question what we eat.
In November, top Italian olive oil producers were accused of passing off lower-quality products as “extra virgin”, the highest quality olive oil. Fraud related to olive oil, a major staple of the Mediterranean diet, has occurred in Italy and Spain, with people passing off mixtures as extra virgin olive oil.
Traces of horse meat found in burgers in Ireland set off a scandal in Europe in 2013 and led to a recall of 10m burgers in the UK. Later, horse meat was discovered in various meat products sold throughout Europe, ranging from burgers to frozen lasagna.