The recent Taco Bell 'meat' lawsuit raises questions about what Americans are actually consuming through some foods. Cellulose, that is, wood pulp, is in many foods we consume each day.
Read the Fine Print
The recent class-action lawsuit brought against Taco Bell raised questions about the quality of food many Americans eat each day. Chief among them 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. Cellulose is virgin wood pulp whose variant forms (cellulose gum, powdered cellulose, microcrystalline cellulose, etc.) are deemed safe for human consumption by the FDA, but the agency sets no limit on the amount that can be used in food products, as it does with other contaminants. 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. 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." Photo Credit: Rich Anderson