have you eaten wood today?

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Capt Worley PE

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NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Are you getting what you pay for on your plate?

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."

To that end, TheStreet rounded up a list of popular foods that use cellulose. It's by no means an exhaustive list, and we suggest consumers read food labels carefully.

(Please note the following lists are not exhaustive. Some companies list all ingredients on their Web sites. Other items were found in a local grocery store near TheStreet's headquarters on Wall Street in New York City.)

[Partial List]

Kellogg (K) uses cellulose in the following products:

  • 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

Weight Watchers International (WTW) uses cellulose in the following products:

  • Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich
  • English Toffee Crunch Ice Cream Bar
  • Giant Cookies & Cream Ice Cream Bar

General Mills (GIS) uses cellulose in the following products:

  • 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)

Yum's Brands' (YUM) Pizza Hut uses cellulose in the following products:

  • Parmesan Romano Cheese
  • Taco Bean Sauce
  • Shredded Cheddar (for Taco Pizza)
  • Breadstick Seasoning (used to make Cheese Breadsticks)
  • WingStreet Bone-In (in the batter)
  • Meatballs (for pasta products, sandwiches)
  • White Pasta Sauce (used for PastaBakes Marinara, PastaBakes Meatball Marinara, PastaBakes Primavera, PastaBakes Chicken Primavera)
  • Alfredo Sauce (used for PastaBakes Marinara, PastaBakes Meatball Marinara, PastaBakes Primavera, PastaBakes Chicken Primavera)
  • Fat Free Ranch Dressing


Full list available at link: http://www.thestreet.com/story/11012915/1/...ed-so-good.html

 

csb

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I remember seeing Wheaties sold as a meat extender.

I like that the MorningStar products show up...the thought of vegetarians eating actual trees is kinda funny.

 

Supe

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Having eaten quite a few of those Morningstar Farms Chik Patties as a kid, I'm not particularly surprised. They had such an odd, almost stringy texture.

 

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