Homogeneous Plastic Mass Cheese: It’s What’s for Lunch!

We all know those individually wrapped slices of yellowy-orange product that Kraft sells—what we usually call “American cheese.”

Did you know Kraft can’t actually legally call those slices “cheese”? Funnily enough, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a rule that in order to be labeled as cheese (or even “pasteurized process cheese”), a product has to contain 100% cheese. If you want to call something “pasteurized process cheese food,” it has to be at least 51% cheese. Otherwise, if it’s less than 51% cheese, it has to be called “pasteurized process cheese product.”

If you read the Federal Rule (CFR 21 § 133.169) on this subject, it actually almost reads like a joke:

“A pasteurized process cheese food is the food prepared by comminuting and mixing… the cheese ingredients in paragraph (c)…with the dairy ingredients in paragraph (d), into a homogeneous plastic mass.”

I went ahead and added the italics on that last sentence just to make sure we all had the emphasis in the right place. Yes, the words “homogeneous plastic mass” actually occur in the legal definition of a substance marketed as food. Imagine how the homogeneous plastic mass must look for a pasteurized process cheese product

These revelations are disturbing enough that I could end this post right here, but hang on to your seats, because it gets even better.

Guess which product was recently awarded the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics “Kids Eat Right” seal, which it can now feature on its product label? Ding ding ding. None other than Kraft Singles, otherwise known as Kraft Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product.

Did I mention that Kraft Singles were the first product to receive this privilege? That’s right. When the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics sat down to decide which product it should endorse first with its Kids Eat Right seal, they chose Kraft Singles. This happened in March 2015 and sparked some serious outcry both within and outside the dietician community, leading the Academy to pull the plug on the seal of approval only a few weeks later.

Funny how when the new label has to say “added sugars” or “GMO-free” or contain new nutrition facts, it’s too expensive for a company to possibly be able to comply—but when the new label comes from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, they are more than happy to accept! In fact, Kraft had already printed up its new packaging with the Kids Eat Right logo when the Academy pulled the plug, so some packages sold will contain the logo for the near future. Very keen!

The future of labeling is a contentious issue for sure. What is the consumer entitled to know about a food product before purchasing? What should companies be allowed to advertise on their products? What claims should they be able to make? Why isn’t alcohol labeled? And who should decide? Some questions to ponder the next time you’re making your kids a nice snack of homogeneous plastic mass pasteurized process cheese product.

6 thoughts on “Homogeneous Plastic Mass Cheese: It’s What’s for Lunch!

  1. Seems a bit outrageous for children to be eating plastic mass- is there any research out there on the impact on child health of eating “plastic mass” products?
    Unsurprising how keen the company was to change “expensive” labelling when the change could help sell more product. Would be good if there was guidance (or better yet, regulation) in relation to responsible marketing of these “food” products like there are around other infant products, such as breast milk substitutes (WHO’s International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes), if there is not any already (?) to help try to change the way in which companies can push these seemingly non-food food substances…

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    • Thanks for the comment Astra! I just want to be clear first that there isn’t in fact plastic IN Kraft singles—I wouldn’t want that to be the take away so I hope I didn’t imply that! Rather, Kraft is producing this homogeneous mass that can then be molded at will, which it then molds into something resembling cheese, and which we all call cheese (even though it isn’t!).

      I couldn’t agree more re: more oversight needed on classifying and marketing these products. In fact, I’m not opposed to dividing the entire class of what we now call food into two categories, “food” and “edible substances,” with foods containing a minimum standard of nutritive value and edible substances being everything else that is ingestible.

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  2. Thank you for shedding light on these ridiculous “protections” the FDA institutes for our safety. And who exactly is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics? Is everything smoke and mirrors?! Egads, who can we trust? Please keep educating us ekaguirre!

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    • I’m on it! 😀 The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is akin to the ABA, but for dietitians. There was big outcry within the 75,000+ membership of the Academy when the deal with Kraft went public, which helped lead to its getting sacked. Can you imagine if the ABA had done some sort of equivalent deal in law?! The bigwigs at the top are tarnishing this umbrella group that is supposed to represent dietitians…

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  3. Although not wishing to seem to be defending Kraft’s unpleasant product and I certainly would not want to eat it, but are we not in danger of encouraging the interpretation of the word ‘plastic’ as being a noun rather than as an adjective, which is surely what is actually meant by the Federal Rule?

    plastic
    ˈplastɪk/: 2. (of substances or materials) easily shaped or moulded.

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    • Yes, absolutely, thank you Leo for making this point, which I had also wanted to clarify. It is important to note that there is not in fact “plastic” IN Kraft singles! Rather, the Federal Rule is referring to this quality of being able to be molded into a shape while soft to then harden into that shape in rigid or slightly elastic form. This quality can apply to any number of products (like for example pipes or dental molds or soda bottles or even Kraft singles). As it turns out, in order to do this with cheese, you can’t actually use real cheese, so Kraft uses other substances to create its perfectly square, uniform slices. The homogeneity and plasticity of the substance is also why this product melts so uniformly—and is used to make grilled cheese sandwiches/toasties.

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