It's news no one is ever happy to hear: The process of creating one of your favorite foods is rife with fraud, and you are probably not eating what you think.
The FDA says Parmesan fraud has become a serious concern for American consumers. Tests conducted on products proclaiming to be 100 percent Parmesan showed these products actually contained substitutes like cheddar cheese, Swiss cheese or mozzarella cheese -- as well as fillers like wood pulp, Bloomberg reports.
The wood pulp found in some of the products is a result of cheesemakers using too much cellulose, a common anti-clumping agent made from wood pulp, and then mislabeling their products.
“The tipping point was grated cheese, where less than 40 percent of the product was actually a cheese product,” Neal Schuman told Bloomberg. Schuman is the head of New Jersey's Arthur Schuman Inc., the largest supplier of Italian hard cheeses in the American market.
“Consumers are innocent, and they’re not getting what they bargained for. And that’s just wrong.”
Bloomberg conducted an independent investigation, testing products from different grocery stores around the country, and the results were in line with the FDA's findings: "Essential Everyday 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, from Jewel-Osco, was 8.8 percent cellulose, while Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s Great Value 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese registered 7.8 percent, according to test results. Whole Foods 365 brand didn't list cellulose as an ingredient on the label, but still tested at 0.3 percent. Kraft had 3.8 percent."
According to cheese technologist Dean Sommer, an acceptable amount of cellulose is 2 to 4 percent.
Cheese fraud is a real problem in the U.S. food industry as manufacturers seek to cut costs by adulterating their products. In some cases, fraud has been the norm for decades; Pennsylvania-based Castle Cheese Inc. has reportedly supplied the market with mislabeled cheeses for nearly 30 years.