Taryn Phaneuf Jun. 13, 2016, 12:30pm


CHICAGO (Legal Newsline) — Lawsuits against Parmesan cheese makers “spiked” after a new report in February claimed some companies use too much cellulose as a filler, Jacob Harper, a Troy Gould attorney and specialist in consumer class actions, told Legal Newsline.

“You could call it the 'flavor of the month' for food mislabeling class actions,” he said.

Class actions have been filed against Kraft Heinz and Wal-Mart. Safeway joined the crowd of defendants after two California residents filed a lawsuit in April. Several were consolidated in Chicago federal court for a multidistrict litigation proceeding.

Harper, who isn't involved in the Safeway lawsuit, said the lawsuits likely won’t last long.

“This lawsuit, like the vast majority of food mislabeling lawsuits, appears to result from a failure to read product labels, which in nearly all cases fully disclose the ingredients,” Harper said.

“Federal law requires it, and most food manufacturers and distributors go to great lengths to represent the product contents accurately. We are likely to find that this lawsuit, as most food mislabeling lawsuits, will begin and end at the motion to dismiss stage with a review of the product label.”

Rebekah Prewitt of Escondido and Lauren Barry of San Diego filed a class action against Safeway, claiming it mislabeled and falsely advertised its "Signature Kitchens' 100 percent grated Parmesan” because the cheese contains a substantial amount of cellulose, an anti-clumping agent derived from plant fiber. Wood pulp is a common source of cellulose.

“Often, the plaintiff’s own allegations disclose that they did not read the label or did not suffer an injury,” he said. “Also, the fact that the FDA regulates these matters closely — including the contents of grated parmesan varieties and the use of cellulose — likely places this within the long line of cases dismissing complaints as pre-empted by FDA regulations.”

The Food and Drug Administration has acted against companies that misrepresent their Parmesan cheese. It found evidence in 2012 that Castle Cheese doctored its product using substitutes and fillers. Castle President Michelle Myrter pleaded guilty in February to criminal charges. She faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Bloomberg reported that the FDA found “no parmesan cheese was used to manufacture” the cheese sold under several brands in stores across the country. Instead, the company sold a mixture of other white cheese, including Swiss, mozzarella and cheddar, combined with cellulose.

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