CHICAGO - A federal judge is throwing out nearly 50 lawsuits regarding wood pulp in Parmesan cheese - saying plaintiffs should be reading labels before purchasing packaged food.
 
Back in early 2016, Bloomberg News hired an independent laboratory to test popular brands of store-bought grated Parmesan and Romano cheeses to learn how much wood pulp each cheese contained. The tests found that many brands of cheeses contained higher than expected amounts of wood cellulose, a common additive that helps prevent clumping.
 
The findings inspired an array of lawsuits, with plaintiffs claiming they were deceived by product labels promising "100 percent grated Parmesan cheese." 
 

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High amounts of wood cellulose found in Parmesan cheese

Laboratory tests have found many brands of grated Parmesan and Romano cheeses contain higher than expected amounts of wood cellulose.


Nearly 50 complaints were filed against Kraft Heinz, Wal-Mart, Target, and grocery store Jewel-Osco near Chicago, clumped together into a multi-district piece of litigation. 

Chicago Federal Judge Gary Feinerman just dismissed the nearly 50 lawsuits, claiming the seemingly straightforward "100 percent grated Parmesan cheese" labels were perhaps a little more nuanced. 
 
"Although '100% Grated Parmesan Cheese' might be interpreted as saying that the product is 100 percent cheese and nothing else, it also might be an assertion that 100 percent of the cheese is parmesan cheese, or that the parmesan cheese is 100 percent grated," he said in his memorandum. 
 
Reasonable consumers seeking to understand the "ambiguous" claim could find more information on the ingredient list, Feinerman said.
 
Bloomberg found that Essential Everyday 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, from Jewel-Osco, was 8.8 percent cellulose, while Wal-Mart's Great Value 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese registered 7.8 percent. 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.
 
The Food and Drug Administration requires "each of the ingredients used in the food shall be declared on the label," and the companies in question do list cellulose as an ingredient. The percentage of the product that's made of anything other than cheese, however, is left out.