Walmart is facing allegations of deceptive business practices and material misrepresentation after it was discovered that its store-brand Parmesan cheese product – Great Value 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese – contained an unacceptably high percentage of wood pulp as a filler. An action against the retail giant was commenced in Manhattan federal Court on February 23, and is seeking class action status.
Similar lawsuits have also been filed in Missouri and California against Kraft Heinz for their 100% Parmesan Cheese, which was also found to contain a high percentage of the wood-derived filler. Additionally, on February 18, a class action lawsuit was filed against Kraft Heinz in Illinois claiming violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practice Act.
The complaint against Wal-Mart alleges that the plaintiff was induced into buying the product because the labeling claimed that the product contained “100% Parmesan Cheese.” He claims he would not have purchased the product if he had known that the cheese had been adulterated with the filler.
According to the complaint, the cheese contains 7-10% cellulose, a filler and anti-clumping agent that comes from wood chips. While it is not uncommon for a small amount of cellulose to be used in cheese products to keep it from clumping, FDA regulations stipulate that cellulose content may not exceed 4%.
Parmesan cheese in particular is more likely to have cellulose fillers due to its expense, a result of the cheese’s lower milk-to-cheese ratio. Fillers can save companies millions of dollars in production costs each year.
This is not the first time that an excess of wood fillers have been discovered in Parmesan cheese. After an investigation in 2013 the FDA sent a warning letter to Pennsylvania-based Castle Cheese Inc., detailing a host of violations. Castle Cheese had consistently labeled its products as 100% Parmesan cheese, however the FDA found that some products did not contain a single trace of Parmesan cheese at all. Instead, several other cheaper cheeses were used and mixed with cellulose fillers.
In addition to cellulose and starch being used to increase the weight of the cheese, the FDA found multiple violations of food labeling regulations that constituted misbranding under Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The ex-president and co-owner of Castle Cheese faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
Following the FDA investigation, Bloomberg News also conducted an independent investigation, finding high levels of cellulose in Parmesan cheese from familiar brands like Kraft Heinz and Whole Foods. Walmart states they take these claims seriously, and that the company is reviewing the allegations filed against them.