PITTSBURGH (AP) – A woman and two western Pennsylvania cheese firms her family controls have pleaded guilty to mislabeling grated parmesan and romano that contained only other cheeses and filler made from wood pulp.
A federal judge in Pittsburgh didn’t immediately set a sentencing date for 44-year-old Michelle Myrter and her Slippery Rock companies, International Packing and Universal Cheese and Drying.
Under the plea, each company will forfeit $500,000 and, according to her attorney, she’s likely to receive probation.
Myrter was charged with aiding and abetting the introduction of misbran ed and adulterated food into interstate commerce. The law holds a company official responsible whether or not they knew about the wrongdoing.
The FDA says the cheese was sold through Target stores and 3,400 stores supplied by Associated Wholesale Grocers of Kansas City, Kansas.
Myrter is charged with aiding and abetting the introduction of misbranded and adulterated food into interstate commerce. The companies are each charged with conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, a catch-all charge that often covers regulatory violations.
The charges don’t specify what was in the cheese, only that products labeled “100 percent real Parmesan and Romano” cheeses weren’t as required by the Food and Drug Administration.
But according to an FDA report on Castle Cheese reported by Bloomberg News earlier this month “no parmesan cheese was used to manufacture” the company’s Market Pantry brand or the Always Save and Best Choice branded parmesan cheese. Instead, they were made with a combination of Swiss, mozzarella and white cheddar cheeses, along with cellulose, which is made with wood pulp. Up to 4 percent cellulose is allowed as a safe additive in such cheeses, according to standards set forth by the FDA.
Minneapolis-based Target has previously said that Castle Cheese hasn’t been an authorized vendor, and the chain was investigating the FDA’s findings. Target didn’t immediately return calls and emails for comment Friday.
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