Guilty pleas entered in case of wood pulp in grated cheese
Joe Mandak, The Associated Press
Published Friday, February 26, 2016 12:39PM EST
Last Updated Friday, February 26, 2016 5:51PM EST
PITTSBURGH -- An executive and two Pennsylvania cheese businesses her family controls pleaded guilty Friday to trying to pass off grated Swiss and mozzarella as parmesan and romano and adding more wood pulp to the products than the law allows.
Michelle Myrter, 44, will receive probation instead of up to one year in prison called for by the statute, according to her attorney.
Under a deal with prosecutors, Myrter's Slippery Rock companies -- International Packing and Universal Cheese and Drying -- will have to forfeit $500,000 each.
The Food and Drug Administration said the cheese was made by family-owned Castle Cheese and sold at Target stores and other stores under the brand names Market Pantry, Always Save and Best Choice, according to a report obtained from the agency Bloomberg News.
Despite that, FDA spokeswoman Lauren Sucher told The Associated Press in an email that the agency has no information on where the products were sold.
According to the Bloomberg story, a combination of Swiss, mozzarella and white cheddar cheeses was labeled as parmesan and romano. Also, the cheese contained more than the 4 per cent of cellulose allowed by the FDA to prevent clumping.
"Consumers have a right to expect that products they purchase are what they purport to be," Sucher said in a statement. "In this case, products that were labeled as containing 100 per cent parmesan or 100 per cent romano cheese contained no parmesan or romano cheese."
Myrter, vice-president of Castle and an officer in the other companies, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the introduction of misbranded and adulterated food into interstate commerce. The companies pleaded guilty to conspiracy to misbrand and adulterate the products and money laundering.
Target spokeswoman Joanna Hjelmeland disputed the Bloomberg report, saying in an email Friday that Castle Cheese has never been an authorized Target vendor and none of the affected products are on the store chain's shelves.
Separately, a federal class-action lawsuit in New York has been brought against Wal-Mart after the FDA found the company's Great Value cheese had 7.8 per cent filler. Wal-Mart said it will investigate.