Read the Fine Print
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

Dirty Little Secret
Dirty Little Secret

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 in some cookies, biscuits, cakes and brownies by replacing it with powdered cellulose -- but still ending 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' (Stock Quote: 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 has 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. Still, click through the slideshow to find out if your favorite foods contain the "all-natural" wood pulp... (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.) Photo Credit: Sylvar

General Mills
General Mills

General Mills (Stock Quote: 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)
Photo Credit: General Mills


McDonald's (Stock Quote: MCD) uses cellulose in the following products:

  • Fish Filet Patty
  • McRib
  • 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)
Photo Credit: McDonald's

Sara Lee
Sara Lee

Sara Lee (Stock Quote: SLE) uses cellulose in the following products:

  • 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)
Photo Credit: Sara Lee

Yum's Brands' Taco Bell
Yum's Brands' Taco Bell

Yum's Brands' (Stock Quote: YUM) Taco Bell uses cellulose in the following products:

  • Southwest Chicken
  • Caramel Apple Empanada
  • Corn Tortilla
  • Enchilada Rice
  • Nacho Chips
  • Red Strips
  • Strawberry Topping
  • Zesty Dressing
Photo Credit: Taco Bell

Jack in the Box
Jack in the Box

Jack in the Box (Stock Quote: JACK) uses cellulose in the following products:

  • 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))
Photo Credit: Jack in the Box

Kraft Foods
Kraft Foods

Kraft Foods (Stock Quote: KFT) uses cellulose in the following products:

  • Wheat Thins Fiber Selects
  • Frozen Bagel-Fuls
  • Macaroni & Cheese Thick 'n Creamy
  • Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Three Cheese W/mini-shell Pasta
Photo Credit: Kraft

Yum's Brands' Pizza Hut
Yum's Brands' Pizza Hut

Yum's Brands' (Stock Quote: 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
Photo Credit: Pizza Hut

Wendy's Arby's
Wendy's Arby's

Wendy's Arby's (Stock Quote: WEN) uses cellulose in the following products:

  • 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
Photo Credit: Arby's


Sonic (Stock Quote: SONC) uses cellulose in the following products:

  • Ice Cream
  • Sonic Blast
  • Banana Split
  • Ice Cream Cone
Photo Credit: Sonic

Dole Food
Dole Food

Dole Food (Stock Quote: DOLE) uses cellulose in the following products:

  • Peaches & Crème Parfait
  • Apples & Crème Parfait
Photo Credit: Dole

Yum Brands' KFC
Yum Brands' KFC

Yum Brands' (Stock Quote: YUM) KFC uses cellulose in the following products:

  • 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
Photo Credit: KFC


Nestle (Stock Quote: NSRGY) uses cellulose in the following products:

  • Hot Cocoa Mixes (Mini Marshmallows, Rich Milk Chocolate, Chocolate Mint, Chocolate Caramel)
Photo Credit: Nestle

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