Thursday, February 18, 2016

Parmesan Cheese is Sawdust?

Remember years ago when the Chinese came under criticism for substituting poisons and other inferior products in their food?

Turns out it has been standard corporate practice in America, too, and given the lead in the water problems in Flint and beyond.... 

Can anyone really trust the food supply chain of America anymore? Do you really know what you are eating?

"The Parmesan cheese you sprinkle on your penne could be wood" by Lydia Mulvany Bloomberg News  February 18, 2016

The cheese police are on the case.

Acting on a tip, agents of the Food and Drug Administration paid a surprise visit to a cheese factory in rural Pennsylvania on a cold November day in 2012.

They found what they were looking for: evidence that Castle Cheese Inc. was doctoring its 100 percent real Parmesan with cut-rate substitutes and such fillers as wood pulp and distributing it to some of the country’s biggest grocery chains.

Some grated Parmesan suppliers have been mislabeling products by filling them with too much cellulose, a common anticlumping agent made from wood pulp, or using cheaper cheddar, instead of real Romano. Castle president Michelle Myrter is scheduled to plead guilty this month to criminal charges. She faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

German brewers protect their reputations with Reinheitsgebot, a series of purity laws first drawn up 500 years ago, and Champagne makers prohibit most vineyards outside their turf from using the name. Now the full force of the US government has been brought to bear defending the authenticity of grated hard Italian cheeses. Which is good news for Neal Schuman.

The U.S. government to the rescue again. 

Laying a solid foundation for the case, I'm sure.

For years, Schuman has been a one-man Reinheitsgebot, insisting that the fragrant granules Americans sprinkle on their pizza and penne ought to be the real thing; if not, the label should say so.

The stakes are 100 percent real for him. Schuman’s Fairfield, N.J., company, Arthur Schuman Inc., is the biggest seller of hard Italian cheeses in the United States, with 33 percent of the domestic market. He estimates that 20 percent of US production — worth $375 million in sales — is mislabeled.

“The tipping point was grated cheese, where less than 40 percent of the product was actually a cheese product,” Schuman said. “Consumers are innocent, and they’re not getting what they bargained for. And that’s just wrong.”

How serious is the problem? Bloomberg News had store-bought grated cheese tested for wood-pulp content by an independent laboratory.

Cellulose is a safe additive, and an acceptable level is 2 percent to 4 percent, according to Dean Sommer, a cheese technologist at the Center for Dairy Research in Madison, Wis. Essential Everyday 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, from Jewel-Osco, was 8.8 percent cellulose, while Walmart Stores Inc.’s Great Value 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese registered 7.8 percent, according to test results. Whole Foods’s 365 brand didn’t list cellulose as an ingredient on the label, but still tested at 0.3 percent. Kraft had 3.8 percent.

“We remain committed to the quality of our products,” Michael Mullen, a Kraft Heinz Co. spokesman, said in an e-mail. John Forrest Ales, a Walmart spokesman, said he questioned the reliability of testing a single sample and that Walmart’s “compliance team is looking into these findings.”

Jewel-Osco is also investigating, spokeswoman Mary Frances Trucco said in an e-mail. “We pride ourselves on the quality of products we deliver for our customers,” Trucco said.

“We strongly believe that there is no cellulose present,” Blaire Kniffin, a Whole Foods Market Inc. spokeswoman, said in an e-mail, adding that it could have been a false positive. “But we are investigating this matter.”

According to the FDA’s report on Castle, “no Parmesan cheese was used to manufacture” the Market Pantry brand 100% grated Parmesan Cheese, sold at Target Corp. stores, and Always Save Grated Parmesan Cheese and Best Choice 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, sold by Associated Wholesale Grocers Inc., which along with its subsidiaries supplies 3,400 retail stores in 30 states. Instead, there was a mixture of Swiss, mozzarella, white cheddar, and cellulose, according to the FDA.

Castle has never been an authorized Target vendor, according to Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder. “We are investigating the information provided in the report,” she said in an e-mail. Jeff Pedersen, an executive vice president of Associated Wholesale Grocers, had no comment. 

I always liked the cardboard container with the plastic top giving you a choice of a half moon or shaker holes to control your grated cheese distribution.

Until recently, there was little incentive to follow labeling rules. Criminal cases are rare. That’s because the FDA, which enforces the country’s food laws, prioritizes health hazards, said John Spink, director of the Food Fraud Initiative at Michigan State University. But civil lawsuits abound. A Jan. 29 complaint accuses McDonald’s Corp. of selling pure mozzarella sticks that contain starch, considered a filler, a claim the company denies.

Cheese makers commit adulteration because it saves money.

It's in the millions of dollars.


And here I was going to have spaghetti for supper tonight.

No cheese, thanks.

UPDATE: Walmart sued over wood pulp in parmesan cheese