Parmesan cheese sold nationwide may actually contain wood pulp combined with other cheap substitutes, representatives of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have recently cautioned.
The allegations come right before Michelle Myrter’s court hearing, during which the former president of Castle Cheese Inc. is predicted to plead guilty of a criminal misdemeanor, consisting in condoning and even assisting in the commercialization of mislabeled and adulterated food products.
It all began in 2010, when Castle Cheese first introduced a new item wrongly branded as “100 percent Grated Parmesan”, which actually contained no parmesan whatsoever, having instead pieces of wood pulp, Swiss cheese, mozzarella, cream Havarti and white cheddar.
The FDA found out about the scheme in 2012, when a plant manager that had been in charge with creating the recipes for the misleading products was dismissed by the company, and decided to act as a whistleblower, exposing the entire conspiracy.
Federal officials launched an investigation against the manufacturer based in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, and that’s how it was determined that fake cheese had been the company’s specialty for around three decades.
Business had thrived as customers were being duped, to the point where annual sales back in 2013 had reached $19 million.
Thanks to this FDA probe, Castle’s production of fake parmesan cheese and other misbranded dairy products finally came to a standstill, as the wrongly advertised items were removed from supermarket shelves.
The once flourishing company was eventually driven to bankruptcy by 2014, and Michelle Myrter now risks spending a year behind bars and paying fines amounting to $100,000.
Meanwhile, the FDA has remained preoccupied with the accuracy of labels describing cheese commonly sold across the nation, which is why investigators decided to analyze various parmesan cheese products found in supermarkets.
It was discovered that Best Choice 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese and Always Save Grated Parmesan Cheese that are commercialized by Associated Wholesale Grocers actually contain no parmesan whatsoever, and the same thing can also be said about Target’s Market Pantry 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese.
Appalling conclusions were also drawn regarding the amount of wood pulp and other undisclosed ingredients contained in supposedly wholesome dairy items.
As explained by Dean Sommer, cheese and food technologist at the Center for Dairy Research, even though cellulose is considered safe, cheese shouldn’t contain more than 4% of this food additive, commonly used in order to remove moisture and to give dairy products a more creamy, less clumpy taste and appearance.
And yet, Great Value 100% Parmesan Grated Cheese sold at WalMart has 7.8% wood pulp, while Essential Everyday 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese found at Jewel-Osco has an even higher concentration of cellulose, reaching 8.8%.
Apparently, slightly better alternatives are Kraft 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, which has just 3.8% wood pulp, or 365 Grated Parmesan Cheese available at Whole Foods, which has about 0.3% cellulose, although it must be noted that this compound isn’t even included in the list of ingredients.
Following these recent findings, Michael Mullen, a representative of Kraft Heinz, has recently spoken out, declaring that the company has always maintained high quality and safety standards, which it will continue to uphold.
The same viewpoint was also supported by Mary Frances Truco, a spokesperson for Jewel-Osco, who emphasized the great value for money that the supermarket chain has always offered, and revealed that the FDA’s claims will have to be analyzed in order to determine if they are indeed accurate.
Similarly, John Forrest Ales argued in Wal-Mart’s defense, casting doubt upon the validity of the research conducted by FDA officials, and explaining that company experts will be conducting their own investigation into this matter.
On the other hand, Neil Schuman, chief executive officer at Arthur Schuman Inc., which is considered the most successful hard cheese producer and importer in the United States, has recently declared that he has full faith in the discoveries made by the FDA.
As the entrepreneur explained, given that many cheese makers want to obtain a quick profit by replacing expensive ingredients with cheaper substitutes, around a fifth of all the hard Italian cheese manufactured across the country is labelled incorrectly.
Even more, when it comes to grated cheese, genuine ingredients account for just 40% of the dairy product’s composition, while the rest is represented by other compounds about which consumers remain none the wiser.
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