FDA: Listeria found at cheese plant with mislabeled products

PITTSBURGH -- If you love cheese, this news was pretty unappetizing -- some Parmesan cheese actually contains wood pulp.

Then last Friday, an executive at a Pennsylvania food company pleaded guilty to selling cheese that had no relation to what was on the label. CBS News decided to investigate.

David Hickton CBS News

You would think when FDA investigators found Castle Cheese marketing a product as 100 percent Parmesan cheese that is actually zero percent Parmesan, the company has a problem.

"The product that they were marketing and which was on the label was not what they were selling," said U.S. attorney David Hickton.

Hickton brought the case against Castle Cheese outside of Pittsburgh after an FDA inspection in 2012 found the company's Parmesan was actually a mixture of cheaper cheeses like Swiss and Cheddar, and in one case, an "unknown ingredient."

"Advertising it as Parmesan and Romano and putting in something else so the supplier could make more money, that's just clearly fraud on the consumer," Hickton said.

But CBS News found fraud might not be the worst of it. FDA records show finished cheese was stored in an un-refrigerated room, which could cause bacteria to thrive.

What's more: the company found Listeria, a potentially deadly pathogen, in its production area ten times. But Castle continued to produce and sell its cheese to stores like Target and Walmart without testing it.

That might be troubling enough, but records from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture -- which inspected Castle around the same time as the FDA -- tell a very different story.

In June 2012, state inspector David Trotter wrote: "the plant continues to be in excellent condition. I appreciate the plant management and the quality work they do."

David Trotter

Trotter's glowing reviews from the state continued until August of 2013, when he left the Department of Agriculture for a new job -- as the Director of Quality Control at Castle Cheese.

CBS News asked Trotter to explain his reviews of Castle, but he declined.

Castle Cheese is no longer on the market. The company went bankrupt in 2014. The FDA

  • Jim Axelrod
    Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the chief investigative correspondent and senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.