I kinda don’t know what to do with this one… so I’ll let The Street tell it:
The recent class-action lawsuit brought against Taco Bell raised questions about the quality of food many Americans eat each day.
Chief among those concerns is the use of cellulose (read: wood pulp), an extender whose use in a roster of food products, from crackers and ice creams to puddings and baked goods, is now being exposed. What you’re actually paying for — and consuming — may be surprising.
Cellulose is virgin wood pulp that has been processed and manufactured to different lengths for functionality, though use of it and its variant forms (cellulose gum, powdered cellulose, microcrystalline cellulose, etc.) is deemed safe for human consumption, according to the FDA, which regulates most food industry products. The government agency sets no limit on the amount of cellulose that can be used in food products meant for human consumption. The USDA, which regulates meats, has set a limit of 3.5% on the use of cellulose, since fiber in meat products cannot be recognized nutritionally.
“As commodity prices continue to rally and the cost of imported materials impacts earnings, we expect to see increasing use of surrogate products within food items. Cellulose is certainly in higher demand and we expect this to continue,” Michael A. Yoshikami, chief investment strategist at YCMNet Advisors, told TheStreet.
Manufacturers use cellulose in food as an extender, providing structure and reducing breakage, said Dan Inman, director of research and development at J. Rettenmaier USA, a company that supplies “organic” cellulose fibers for use in a variety of processed foods and meats meant for human and pet consumption, as well as for plastics, cleaning detergents, welding electrodes, pet litter, automotive brake pads, glue and reinforcing compounds, construction materials, roof coating, asphalt and even emulsion paints, among many other products.
Cellulose adds fiber to the food, which is good for people who do not get the recommended daily intake of fiber in their diets, Inman said. It also extends the shelf life of processed foods. Plus, cellulose’s water-absorbing properties can mimic fat, he said, allowing consumers to reduce their fat intake.
Perhaps most important to food processors is that cellulose is cheaper, he added, because “the fiber and water combination is less expensive than most other ingredients in the [food] product.”
Indeed, food producers save as much as 30% in ingredient costs by opting for cellulose as a filler or binder in processed foods, according to a source close to the processed food industry who spoke with TheStreet on the condition of anonymity.
Inman said that in his 30 years in the food science business, he’s seen “an amazing leap in terms of the applications of cellulose fiber and what you can do with it.” He said powdered cellulose has a bad reputation but that more of his customers are converting from things like oat or sugar cane fibers to cellulose because it is “snow white in color, bland and easy to work with.”
Most surprising, said Inman, is that he’s been able to remove as much as 50% of the fat from some cookies, biscuits, cakes and brownies by replacing it with powdered cellulose — but still end up with a very similar product in terms of taste and appearance.
“We’re only limited by our own imagination,” Inman told TheStreet. “I would never have dreamed I could successfully put 18% fiber in a loaf of bread two years ago.”
He said cellulose is common in processed foods, often labeled as reduced-fat or high-fiber — products like breads, pancakes, crackers, pizza crusts, muffins, scrambled eggs, mashed potato mixes, and even cheesecake. Inman himself keeps a box of Wheat Thins Fiber Selects crackers, manufactured by Kraft Foods(KFT_)’ Nabisco brand, at his desk, and snacks on them daily, clearly unmoved by the use of wood pulp in its ingredients.
“Most consumers would be shocked to find these types of filler products are used as substitutes for items that they believe are more pure,” Yoshikami said. “We would expect increased disclosure to follow increased use of cellulose and other filler products as the practice increases in frequency.”
Wondering what’s on the list? Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered.
- Aunt Jemima Frozen Blueberry Pancakes
- Aunt Jemima Original Syrup
- Aunt Jemima Original Syrup
- MorningStar Farms Chik’n Nuggets
- MorningStar Farms Chik Patties Original
- MorningStar Farms Buffalo Wings Veggie Wings
- Eggo Nutri-Grain Blueberry waffles
- Eggo Strawberry Waffles
- Eggo Blueberry Waffles
- Cinnabon Pancakes Original
- Cinnabon Pancakes Caramel
- Cinnabon Snack Bars Original
- Cinnabon Snack Bars Baked Cinnamon Apple
- General Mills
- Fiber One Ready-To-Eat Muffins (Wild Blueberry & Oats; Mixed Fruit, Nuts & Honey; Apple Cinnamon Bun, Banana Chocolate Chip)
- Fiber One Original cereal
- Fiber One Chewy Bars (90 Calorie Chocolate, 90 Calorie Chocolate Peanut Butter)
- Fiber One baking products (Apple Cinnamon Muffin Mix, Banana Nut Muffin Mix, Blueberry Muffin Mix)
- Pillsbury Moist Supreme Classic Yellow Cake Mix
- Pillsbury Mozzarella and Pepperoni Pastry Puffs
- Pillsbury Cheese and Spinach Crescent Pastry Puffs
- Pillsbury Artichoke and Spinach Bread Bowl Bites
- Pillsbury Buffalo Chicken Crescent Pastry Puffs
- Pillsbury Cream Cheese and Jalapeno Bread Bowl Bites
- Betty Crocker whipped frostings (Strawberry Mist, Chocolate, Cream Cheese)
- Betty Crocker Vanilla Amazing Glazes
- Duncan Hines Cake Mixes (Devil’s Food Cake Mix, Dark Chocolate Fudge, Strawberry Supreme, Fudge Marble, Classic Yellow, French Vanilla)
- Weight Watchers
- Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich
- English Toffee Crunch Ice Cream Bar
- Giant Cookies & Cream Ice Cream Bar
- Fish Filet Patty
- Premium Caesar Salad
- Chipotle BBQ Snack Wrap
- Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken
- Southern Style Chicken Biscuit
- Strawberry Sundae
- Natural Swiss Cheese (used in McRib, Quarter Pounder with Cheese, Angus Mushroom & Swiss, Premium Grilled Chicken Club Sandwich, Premium Crispy Chicken Club Sandwich, Angus Mushroom & Swiss Snack Wrap)
- Shredded Cheddar/Jack Cheese (used in Ranch Snack Wrap (Crispy and Grilled), Honey Mustard Snack Wrap (Crispy and Grilled), Chipotle BBQ Snack Wrap (Crispy and Grilled), Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken, Premium Southwest Salad with/without Crispy/Grilled Chicken, Premium Bacon Ranch Salad with/without Crispy/Grilled Chicken, McSkillet Burrito with Sausage)
- Barbeque Sauce
- Sweet ‘N Sour Sauce
- Shredded Parmesan Cheese (used in Premium Caesar Salad with/without Crispy/Grilled Chicken)
- Biscuit (Large and Regular) (used to make Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuit, Sausage Biscuit with Egg, Sausage Biscuit, Southern Style Chicken Biscuit, Big Breakfast with/without Hotcakes)
- Vanilla Reduced Fat Ice Cream (used in Strawberry Sundae, Hot Caramel Sundae, Hot Fudge Sundae, McFlurry with M&M’S Candies, McFlurry with OREO Cookies, Chocolate Triple Thick Shake, Strawberry Triple Thick Shake, Vanilla Triple Thick Shake)
- Sugar Free Vanilla Syrup (used in Premium Roast Coffee, Espresso)
- Sara Lee
- Jimmy Dean Frozen Breakfast Bowl (Sausage & Gravy)
- Jimmy Dean D-lights Turkey Sausage Breakfast Bowl
- Jimmy Dean D-lights Turkey Sausage Croissant
- Jimmy Dean Breakfast Entrée (Scrambled Eggs with Bacon/Sausage and Cheese Diced Apples & Seasoned Hash)
- Taco Bell
- Southwest Chicken
- Caramel Apple Empanada
- Corn Tortilla
- Enchilada Rice
- Nacho Chips
- Red Strips
- Strawberry Topping
- Zesty Dressing
- Jack In The Box
- Cheese, Cheddar, Shredded (used in Grilled Chicken Salad, Chicken Club Salad with Crispy Chicken, Meaty Breakfast Burrito, Hearty Breakfast Bowl)
- Cheese, Pepper Jack, Shredded (used in Chicken Fajita Pita, Southwest Chicken Salad with Grilled Chicken, Meaty Breakfast Burrito)
- Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce
- Ice Cream Shake Mix
- Log Cabin Syrup
- Mini Funnel Cake
- Mozzarella Cheese Sticks (also part of Sampler Trio)
- Smoothie Base (Mango, Strawberry, Strawberry Banana)
- Tortilla, Flour (used for Chorizo Sausage Burrito, Steak & Egg Burrito, Meaty Breakfast Burrito)
- White Cheese Sauce (used in Breakfast Bowl (Hearty and Denver))
- Wendy’s Arby’s
- Asiago Cheese (used in Spicy Chicken Caesar Salad, Asiago Ranch Chicken Club, Caesar Side Salad)
- Fat Free French Dressing (for Apple Pecan Chicken Salad, Baja Salad, Spicy Chicken Caesar Salad, BLT Cobb Salad)
- Blue Cheese Crumbles (used in Apple Pecan Chicken Salad, BLT Cobb Salad)
- Cheddar Pepper Jack Cheese Blend, Shredded
- Chocolate Sauce
- Coffee Toffee Twisted Frosty (Chocolate, Vanilla)
- Frosty (Chocolate and Vanilla)
- Frosty Shake (Frosty-cino, Chocolate Fudge, Strawberry, Vanilla Bean)
- Milk, 1% Low Fat Chocolate Milk
- KFC Cornbread Muffin
- Apple Turnover
- Honey Mustard BBQ Sauce
- Lil’ Bucket Strawberry Short Cake Parfait
- Lil’ Bucket Lemon Crème Parfait
- Lil’ Bucket Chocolate Crème Parfait
- Oreo Cookies and Crème Pie Slice
- Reese’s Peanut Butter Pie Slice
- Popcorn Chicken
- Strawberry Cream Cheese Pie Slice
The Street’s full list can be found here. It isn’t all-encompassing, but as far as popular brands go, it’s kinda bananas. The reality of cellulose is, in fact, that it is found in nature (obviously), but how is it extracted? If it’s removed from its natural context to be put into a processed product, how do we know that it’s being paired properly with everything it was naturally found with? It’d simply be easier to just use actual plants, but because the food industry is notorious for breaking items into pieces and finding uses for each of those individual pieces, we won’t get that. Cellulose serves as “fiber” because it is, in fact, roughage – because the stomach can’t digest it (as with any other fiber), it is simply pushed through the digestive system and out through the bowels, scraping any other – ahem – collectibles along and out the door, so to speak. But, when you pay for your food, are you paying for food or are you paying for “stuff that uses wood pulp as filler so that companies can give you less food?”
Oh, and y’all can thank Alice for the fact that we now know that such a thing as “organic edible wood pulp” exists.
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Enlightening! I don’t consume those products, so I’m glad to know I haven’t eaten virgin wood pieces…LOL.
UGH! This is why eating clean is so important. What utter crap! saving this list and forwarding to friends.
In high-school I did a summer research product on cellulose extracted from corn husk. Not all cellulose is derived from wood pulp not that that minute fact changes the argument but yea… the key investigators for the research were looking to make a sports drink with it. My job was to find out what was the best way to dry it. Anyway just thought I’d share
Right! Like I said, the fiber from most veggies IS, in fact, cellulose, and that makes sense (specifically the indigestible parts of corn)… but extracting it from its natural origins and using it as filler for food to stretch out your supply instead of just using the veggies as unprocessed as possible, um… I can’t with that. LOL
I really don’t know what to say. No words can express my disappointment with the FDA approving such substitutes. I’m not interested in paying for fillers. I’m interested in paying for food. All the more reason to not eat processed foods, as if we don’t already have enough. Thanks for sharing Erika.
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