SLIPPERY ROCK , Pa., Feb. 27 (UPI) -- An executive and two companies pleaded guilty in federal court Friday to marketing packages of cheese containing unacceptable amounts of wood pulp as "100 percent real parmesan and romano cheese."
Castle Cheese Company executive Michelle Myrter, 44, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of aiding and abetting to introduce "misbranded and adulterated cheese products" to interstate commerce. Two other companies, Universal Cheese & Drying, Inc. and International Packing LLC also pleaded guilty to conspiring to introduce misbranded cheese and money laundering.
Each corporation faces a fine of $500,000. Myrter can face a one-year sentence in prison, a $100,000 fine or both depending on the seriousness of the offense and her past legal history.
"The Department of Justice prosecutes people and companies who introduce adulterated or misbranded food into interstate commerce," said U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton. "In this case, the fraud was perpetrated on consumers who purchased parmesan and romano cheeses that were inferior to what they believed they were buying."
A 2013 Food and Drug Administration report found that items labeled as "100 percent real parmesan and romano cheese" distributed through the company to various stores contained a combination of Swiss, mozzarella and white cheddar cheeses, as well as wood pulp.
The cheeses labeled as "100 percent real parmesan and romano cheese" did not meet the FDA's standards for such products and contained more than the permitted amount of cellulose, which derived from wood pulp, used as a filler.
The mislabeled packages did not pose any health or safety threats to consumers, but they were sold under several brand names which had no knowledge of the fraud.