SALEM – The Food and Drug Administration sent a letter to Kraft Foods in mid-December, telling the manufacturer to either stop calling several cheese products “food,” or to stop using milk protein concentrate (MPC) in the production of those items.
MPC is not a legal dairy ingredient for pasteurized process cheese food or spread.
FDA inspections this summer of Kraft facilities in Illinois, Minnesota and Missouri found labels for Kraft Singles Cheese Food and Kraft Velveeta Pasteurized Process Cheese Spread that declared milk protein concentrate in the ingredients listing.
Misbranding. The FDA letter, written Dec. 18 by Chicago district acting director Virginia Connelly to Kraft President Betsy Holden, warned Kraft that it is misbranding its Kraft Singles cheese slices and its Velveeta cheese spread as a “food,” when the “product does not conform to the definition and standard.”
Kraft’s pasteurized process cheese food and pasteurized process cheese spread, the FDA said, are being “represented as foods for which standards of identity have been prescribed by regulation and the use of milk protein concentrate in these products does not conform to the standards.”
Kraft name change. Before the warning letter had been received, however, Kraft Foods announced in November that it will change the description of its Singles from “pasteurized process cheese food” to “pasteurized prepared cheese product,” for which there is no standard of identity, or approved ingredient list.
The change means Kraft can continue to use MPC in Kraft Singles.
It has not indicated if a similar description change will be made for the Velveeta cheese spread.
Similar warning. A similar letter was issued to the Wisconsin-based Lactoprot USA Nov. 1 from the FDA’s district office in Minnesota, warning that a Lactoprot brand of flavored processed cheese was also misbranded, as was a similar product that Lactoprot was manufacturing for a private label.
The international company manufactures caseinates and milk protein compounds.
The FDA’s letter comes after months of calls for action by various dairy organizations and public officials.
What are MPCs? Milk protein concentrate is a protein product from milk using a new membrane technology called “ultra filtration,” in which protein molecules are separated from water, lactose and minerals.
Growing use of imported MPC in food products is frustrating U.S. milk producers because the imports are entering the United States with few or no tariffs.
This low-cost ingredient, says Penn State ag economist Ken Bailey, is displacing domestically produced protein and contributing to the U.S. government’s huge stockpile of nonfat dry milk.
MPCs were not available during the most recent round of world trade talks, which is why the ingredient is not subject to import controls.
Certain blends of milk powder can also be passed off as concentrated milk protein at the borders, avoiding the tariffs.
National milk marketing cooperative Dairy Farmers of America and the National Milk Producers Federation, as well as the National Farmers Union, are pushing for action, including a more restrictive definition of milk protein concentrate when the U.S. Customs Service evaluates shipments coming into this country.
Consumer groups and industry groups are both pushing for better research and answers to questions about the legality and safety of using MPC in dairy products and other foods.