A consumer has filed a lawsuit against Kraft Heinz Foods Co. alleging the company sells its grated Parmesan as “100% Grated Parmesan Cheese” despite containing “significant amounts of adulterants and fillers,” including cellulose, or “wood pulp.” Lewin v. Kraft Heinz Foods Co., No. 16-0823 (N.D. Cal., filed February 18, 2016). The lawsuit comes in the wake of a Bloomberg Business article investigating the content of several leading companies’ grated-Parmesan products. The plaintiff alleges that the 3.8 percent of the product composed of cellulose precludes Kraft from labeling its cheese as “100% Grated Parmesan.” For allegations of misrepresentation, fraud and violations of California’s consumerprotection statutes, the plaintiff seeks class certification, damages and an injunction.
For its investigation, Bloomberg hired a laboratory to test gratedParmesan products for levels of cellulose, an additive often described as “wood pulp” approved for use in food in amounts up to 4 percent. The tests apparently found higher or mislabeled levels from several products, including 8.8 percent from Jewel-Osco’s store-brand Parmesan and 0.3 percent from Whole Foods’, which did not list cellulose as an ingredient. Jewel-Osco reportedly pulled its product from shelves following the article.
The news outlet began its investigation while reporting on the expected guilty plea by the president of Castle Cheese Inc. over adulterated cheese products. In that case, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration alleges the company’s grated Parmesan and Romano products were adulterated through deviation from the standards of identify for those cheeses, amounting to a misdemeanor count of aiding the introduction of misbranded and adulterated food into interstate commerce. The company president faces up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine. See Bloomberg Business, February 16, 2016.