Cheese, please?

Mystery meat may have the perfect companion -- "cheese product." What's in there?

By IVAN PENN, The Consumer's Edge
Published May 5, 2007

Okay, this is kind of cheesy.

It appears American Cheese isn't always ... well, simply cheese.

In fact, read the label on some products at the grocer and you will find some of the so-called cheese does not mention that there's any cheese at all. Some cheese products may be almost half-liquid.

Consumerworld.com pointed this out recently, so I decided to take a look.

As anxiety has risen with the pet food recall and the discovery of a chemical that is killing our cats and dogs, some people have asked me about human food.

Considering the significance of cheese, I called the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. What would we do without cheese?

No cheeseburgers. No grilled cheese. No wine and cheese. No macaroni and cheese. No pizza, bread, meat and tomato sauce alone would be a meatball sub.

Because cheese is so important, the FDA has standards of identity for 70 different cheesy things -- everything from Blue to Cottage and Gouda to Swiss.

Kimberly Rawlings, an FDA spokeswoman, said not all foods have standards of identity -- a wide range of requirements including such things as moisture content -- nor does food have to be approved by the FDA like drugs.

If the federal government lists a food's standard of identity, a manufacturer must meet those requirements or face sanctions.

So, if the product's name is American "process cheese," it better have some cheese in it.

Kraft calls one of its products "American Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product." It looks like American Cheese, but "Cheese Product" doesn't have an FDA standard. Even "Cheese Food" has a standard that requires it to have some 51 percent cheese.

What's in Kraft American Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product? "Milk, Whey, Milk Protein Concentrate, Salt, Calcium Phosphate, Sodium Citrate, Whey Protein Concentrate, Sodium Phosphate, Sorbic Acid as a Preservative, Apocarotenal (Color), Annatto (Color), Enzymes, Vitamin D3, Cheese Culture."

Nowhere does the package mention American Cheese as an ingredient, such as on the packages that clearly state American Cheese or even American Pasteurized Process Cheese Food.

Mind you, American process cheese (which was created by Kraft Foods founder James L. Kraft in 1915) never has been considered cheese like, say, Swiss.

"Kraft is proud of its heritage and iconic brands ... which are enjoyed by consumers every day," Basil Maglaris, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail.

"'Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product' is a generic product name that we and others use to label certain nonstandardized cheese products, " he said. "When labeling a product ... if we list cheese separately in the ingredient statement, we are required to list the component parts of each cheese in parenthesis. This can result in an ingredient list that is long and repetitive."

Perhaps, but here's the edge:

The Consumer's Edge is a twice-monthly column to help consumers in the marketplace. Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@sptimes.com or (727)892-2332.