The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discovered that a Parmesan cheese manufacturer and supplier in Pennsylvania was adding wood pulp in its ingredients. The agency conducted its investigations in 2013 and cited Castle Cheese, Inc. for the violations.

Castle Cheese, Inc. supplies several store-bought Parmesan cheese and it's popular among consumers. The incident highlights the risks of ingesting wood pulp from food.

Manufacturers add processed wood pulp to increase the food's fiber content. It's also known as cellulose and labeled under names like Carboxymethyl cellulose, Microcrystalline Cellulose and Cellulose Gum. Food industry experts say that what they do is generally a safe practice as cellulose technically comes from plants. But just how dangerous is the ingredient?

Effects of Eating Wood Pulp

The human body is not able to digest cellulose since it's an insoluble fiber that cannot break down even when mixed with liquid. It remains intact when it passes through the digestive track and it does not assimilate with other substances. It can help ease food digestion, thus making bowel movements regular.

"In humans, virtually 100 percent of orally ingested cellulose can be recovered in the feces within four days, indicating that absorption does not occur," the FDA cites. However, wood pulp has no calories nor nutritional value, so it cannot provide the body energy, vitamins and minerals.

Natural Cellulose VS Processed Cellulose

Fruits and vegetables are rich in cellulose too. However, these sources provide natural and unprocessed cellulose, while wood pulp is processed cellulose.

Food manufacturers don't always differentiate or indicate whether their ingredients are plant-based cellulose or processed cellulose, and that's where the danger lies. People believe that they are getting the same fiber benefits from two different sources when processed cellulose is not organic and it's less healthy than natural cellulose.

Most fast-food chains use powdered cellulose to enhance the food, stabilize its quality and extend its shelf life. The additive is also found in ice creams, cakes, biscuits, syrups, sauces, bread, frozen food and salad dressings sold at grocery stores.

Health experts claim that the ingredient is addictive. It causes consumers to crave more high fiber foods that are also high on sugar and fat content, aside from being nutritionally deficient.

Consumers are advised to be mindful of the labels indicated in the food they buy. Even those labeled "organic" may contain the processed ingredient. If possible, limit fast food intake and include more whole food in one's diet to benefit from actual fiber-rich foods.