The next time you buy another batch of "100 percent parmesan" cheese, you might need to double-check if the contents match the label.
According to a new report published by Bloomberg, many cheese products offered in supermarkets that claim they are made from pure parmesan are actually mixed with cheaper and sometimes even inedible substitutes.
The article referred to an inspection conducted by officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the Castle Cheese factory in Pennsylvania in 2012.
Castle, which has supplied its cheese products to Associated Wholesale and Target for 30 years, has been found to include cheaper cheese variants and cellulose (wood pulp) in its offerings.
The FDA said that some suppliers of grated parmesan add amounts of the anti-clumping agent cellulose, or use cheddar in place of authentic Romano cheese, to bolster the contents of their products.
Four years after the FDA inspection of Castle's facility, the company's president, Michelle Myrter, is expected to make a guilty plea to criminal charges this month. She faces a prison sentence of up to a year and a fine of $100,000.
Is Cellulose Safe To Eat?
Cheese technologist Dean Sommer of the Center for Dairy Research in Wisconsin explained that cellulose is a safe additive to food products, especially when kept to 2 to 4 percent levels.
In a test of other well-known cheese products sold in supermarkets, some have been shown to contain levels of cellulose in their mixtures. These include Jewel-Osco's Essential Everyday 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese (8.8 percent) and Wal-Mart's Great Value 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese (7.8 percent).
While Whole Foods' 365 Everyday Value Cheese do not include cellulose in the list of ingredients on its label, testing showed that the product had 0.3 percent of the additive. Kraft's cheese products, on the other hand, had contained 3.8 percent of cellulose.
Michael Mullen, a spokesman for the Kraft Heinz Company, said that they are committed to keeping the quality of their products.
Meanwhile, Wal-Mart spokesman John Forrest Ales said that they are questioning the reliability of examining a single sample of their cheese product. The company's compliance team is also checking the validity of the recent findings.
Jewel-Osco and Whole Foods Market have each launched their own investigations as well.
“We strongly believe that there is no cellulose present,” says Blaire Kniffin, a spokeswoman for Whole Foods Market. "But we are investigating this matter.”
Photo: Rachel Hathaway | Flickr