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Parmesan Cheese May Contain Wood Pulp, But This Shouldn't Surprise You

02/17/2016 01:30 EST | Updated 03/28/2017 05:27 EDT

Turns out your favourite type of cheese may not be fully cheese after all.

According to a report from Bloomberg Business, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration discovered that Parmesan cheese found at Pennsylvania cheese factory Castle Cheese Inc. contained wood pulp in its products.

The report also found this Parmesan cheese in particular actually contained no Parmesan cheese at all, but rather, other types of cheaper cheeses like Swiss, mozzarella and white cheddar.

And while you actually won't ever see "wood pulp" listed as an ingredient on a tub of grated so-called 100 per cent Parmesan cheese, "cellulose" is the culprit you might just find on many packaged goods.

Cellulose is a plant-based fibre that's a component of cell walls of plants, explains registered dietitian Abby Langer, who is based in Toronto.

"Cellulose used in food is sometimes derived from, yes, wood. It's used as a thickener, anti-clumping agent, or to make products creamier, and it's in a ton of food products, from salad dressing to cheese to burgers."

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But Langer says it's completely safe.

"I think it's just because 'wood in your food' sounds gross that people are freaking out about it, but why not freak out about the chemicals in the same food that are not some harmless fibre derived from plants?"

A safe level of cellulose is between two and four per cent, but according to Bloomberg's report, popular cheeses found in grocery stores like Walmart’s Great Value 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, had about 7.8 per cent, while products from Kraft and Whole Foods had percentages below and within the safe amount.

"I think it's just because 'wood in your food' sounds gross that people are freaking out about it, but why not freak out about the chemicals in the same food that are not some harmless fibre derived from plants?" —Abby Langer, RD

In Canada, Kraft's 100% Parmesan cheese lists pasteurized milk, cheese cultures, enzymes, and salt as ingredients.

But it's not just cheese. Cellulose can be found in everything from maple syrup to vanilla ice cream sandwiches to many, many meals at McDonald's, The Street reports.

"The only problem with cellulose in food is that some companies are misrepresenting their Parmesan cheese as being 100 per cent Parmesan," Langer says.

And if all this wood pulp talk has you worried, Langer says it's junk food in general that needs to be a concern.

"If you're eating a lot of products that contain cellulose, then maybe it's time to take a more global approach and cut out some of the processed crap from your diet."


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