"100% grated parmesan cheese"

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Glenn Lammi, "Food Court Follies: Judge Grates Parmesan-Cheese Multidistrict Litigation", Forbes 8/31/2017:

A recent court case asked the Reasonable Person to put on her "reasonable consumer" hat and determine the meaning of the term "100% Grated Parmesan Cheese" as it appears on containers of shelf-stable, processed shaky cheese.

In February 2016, inspired by overblown media stories, 15 lawsuits were filed in 6 different courts against 7 defendants (Kraft Heinz Co., Albertsons Cos., Target Corp., Wal-Mart Stores, ICCO-Cheese Co., and Publix Super Markets) alleging common-law and statutory violations for those companies' false or misleading use of that statement.

The term is fraudulent, the suits alleged, because the container of grated or shredded cheese included an additive, cellulose, which is included to prevent caking.

On June 2, 2016, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation centralized all the actions in one multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the Northern District of Illinois before Judge Gary Feinerman.

In an opinion dated 8/24/2017, Judge Feinerman dismissed the case, on the grounds that

Where a plaintiff contends that certain aspects of a product’s packaging are misleading in isolation, but an ingredient label or other disclaimer would dispel any confusion, the crucial issue is whether the misleading content is ambiguous; if so, context can cure the ambiguity and defeat the claim, but if not, then context will not cure the deception and the claim may proceed.


… the description “100% Grated Parmesan Cheese” is ambiguous—as are the other, similar descriptions of Defendants’ products—so Plaintiffs’ claims are doomed by the readily accessible ingredient panels on the products that disclose the presence of non-cheese ingredients. Although “100% Grated Parmesan Cheese” might be interpreted as saying that the product is 100% cheese and nothing else, it also might be an assertion that 100% of the cheese is parmesan cheese, or that the parmesan cheese is 100% grated. Reasonable consumers would thus need more information before concluding that the labels promised only cheese and nothing more, and they would know exactly where to look to investigate—the ingredient list. Doing so would inform them that the product contained non-cheese ingredients.

The judge's general ambiguity claim seems at least technically valid, but Rebecca Tushnet argues that technical ambiguity should not be enough ("'100% grated parmesan cheese' doesn't have to be all cheese, court rules", 8/30/2017):

Ah, implicature, how I wish judges understood you.  A product labeled “100% Grated Parmesan Cheese” is, apparently, ambiguous—it could mean the product has a bunch of different ingredients, but the parmesan component is 100% grated, rather than only partially grated.  This is nonsense for a product that purports to be cheese, though it would make sense for a non-cheese-only product with a “made with 100% grated parmesan cheese” label.  In fact, the common-sense comparison is the challenged phrase with or without “made with”—on its own, the “100%” naturally applies to all the words following it.

The judge's remarks raise another question for me, which is not relevant to the legal issues but is linguistically puzzling.

I get that a phrase of the form  N% X Y  might mean Y that's N% X, not something that's overall N% X Y. Thus a bottle labelled "3% NaCl solution" is likely to contain a solution that's 3% NaCl, not a mixture of 3% NaCl solution with 97% other stuff, say mineral oil or kerosene. (And never mind that there are several different interpretations of "percent" in this context…)

But could a label of the form N% X Y Z really mean Z that's N% Y, with no specification of the proportion of Z that's X, or the overall proportion of the labelled material that's Z? That's the implication of the judge's claim that "'100% Grated Parmesan Cheese' […] might be an assertion that 100% of the cheese is parmesan cheese".

[h/t Jonathan Weinberg]



  1. Michael P said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 7:24 am

    I would say that a reasonable consumer world assume that any cheese sold in grated or shredded form contains an anti-caking agent, unless specifically denied. Try shredding or grating cheese (even very hard cheeses like parmesan) and storing for a day; chances are very good it will come out clumpy.

    Are these lawyers going to move on next to suing restaurants over mixing rice grains into salt shakers?

  2. Ralph Hickok said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 7:33 am

    Speaking strictly as a consumer, not as a lawyer or a linguist, I would take this labeling to mean that the cheese component is 100% Parmesan. That's how I immediately read it.

  3. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 7:42 am

    I have in my refrigerator a carton of "TRADER JOE'S 100% PURE FLORIDA ORANGE JUICE," whose ingredient list reads "100 Pure Pasteurized Orange Juice, Tricalcium Phosphate* and Vitamin D3*, with the asterisks referencing a footnote disclosing "Ingredient Not Found In Regular Orange Juice." (Elsewhere on the carton it says "With Calcium and Vitamin D Added," in type larger than the ingredient list but smaller than the "100% PURE" claim.) So either they're exposed to a lawsuit too, or that's a bit of relevant information about how such "100%" claims are typically understood in context. Perhaps His Honor's ambiguity analysis isn't the best way to capture that point, but I think the most helpful response would be to offer an alternative analysis w/ some combination of syntax and pragmatics that would support the bottom-line conclusion that consumers are unlikely to be actually misled here.

  4. Ed M said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 7:46 am

    @Michael P – I wonder if it's likely that most consumers (reasonable or otherwise) would have a clue that an "anti-caking agent" exists in any product.

  5. DJ said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 7:55 am

    Withdraw it from the market.
    Make America grate again.

    ["Comment of the week" prize to you, DJ! Of course, given my general opinion of internet comments, you might say the bar is set too low for you to really feel you want to put this trophy on your mantelpiece with your other awards. Buy hey, what I'm saying is, nice one. Very impressive ratio of wit to wordcount, too. —Geoff Pullum]

  6. Coby Lubliner said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 8:05 am

    I have seen packaged bread with "100% whole wheat flour" on the label, in which even the flour (never mind all the other ingredients) is not all whole wheat; the first ingredient would be enriched flour (with a list of the "enriching" ingredients), and then 100% whole wheat flour. In other words, only the whole-wheat-flour part is 100% whole wheat, whatever than means.

  7. Jon W said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 8:19 am

    I expect that a Reasonable Consumer would expect a package of 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese to have de minimis amounts of other ingredients, along the lines of the 0.3% cellulose found in Whole Foods brand. By contrast, though, the 100% grated parmesan cheese sold by Wal-Mart (one of the defendants in this lawsuit), appears to have been 7.8% cellulose; the Albertsons "100% grated parmesan cheese" was said to have been 8.8% cellulose. That's a lot of wood pulp mixed in with one's cheese.

  8. Cervantes said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 8:19 am

    Take a look at a container of V8. It says, in large type of color contrasting with the background, "100% vegetable juice." Right under that, in tiny type that is barely distinguishable from the background, "with added ingredients."

    100% vegetable juice + added ingredients = not 100% vegetable juice.

  9. Ellen Kozisek said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 8:49 am

    If the product were actually labeled "100% Grated Parmesan Cheese" I would think differently than what's actually on the label. The actual label has line breaks, and font size differences, thus clearly (it seems to me) grouping "100% grated" together, with 100% describing "grated". To me, given the arrangement of the label, it reads like it's saying Parmesan cheese (which may have added ingredients) that's 100% grated, rather than claiming it's a grated cheese product that's 100% Parmesan.

    I do agree with the idea that it's ambiguous, and that one can look at the product label to clarify. I don't agree with the judge that it can be read as the "100%" being a claim that all the cheese is Parmesan (but it's not all cheese) or that it's the Parmesan cheese that's 100% grated (it's the whole of the product that's grated, not just the cheese).

    Though reading the comments now, I see Ralph Hickok sees it different and sees the "all the cheese is Parmesan" reading as natural.

  10. Jerry Friedman said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 9:27 am

    "Grated Parmesan Cheese" on a label means to me that it consists of grated Parmesan cheese, maybe with traces of other ingredients. The only possible reason to add "100%", regardless of fonts and line-breaks, is to say it doesn't have those traces.

    If Congress and the courts listened to me, the executives of companies that sold "grated Parmesan cheese" containing 8% cellulose would go to prison.

    But I'm not rigorous about such things. I wouldn't expect the cheese to come from Italy, much less Parma.

    Michael P.: How the makers avoid caking isn't my responsibility to think about. And there are probably plenty of people who have never grated Parmesan or any similarly hard cheese. I'd have to check, but I think I'd have to drive half an hour from my small town to get solid Parmesan.

  11. David L said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 9:28 am

    Anyone who watches sports–especially football–knows that coaches are always exhorting players to give 110%. So the cheese could be 100% parmesan and up to 10% other stuff, making it the grated cheese to beat all other grated cheeses.

  12. bratschegirl said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 9:56 am

    The only possible reason for the manufacturers to use the "100%" designation is to make it seem to consumers that what they are buying is cheese, just the cheese, and nothing but the cheese. Why should anyone need to consult an ingredient label for a product which has already assured the buyer that it consists only of one thing?

    Adding ground-up wood to cheese, which has the primary benefit of making the manufacturer's life easier since they will get fewer complaints about clumping, is altogether different from fortifying fruit juice with vitamin D, which has the primary benefit of enhancing the health of the consumer. There can't be the slightest doubt that the former is an attempt to pull the wool – or the wood – over the buyer's eyes.

  13. George said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 10:07 am

    I'm instinctively with Cervantes and Jerry Friedman on this. Then again, I'm European and maybe that's why my default assumption about food products isn't "Well, of course there's bound to be other stuff in there!"

    The 'reasonable person' test is very culture-specific, so maybe the judge got it right in that particular cultural context. But it certainly feels very wrong to me.

  14. George said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 10:10 am

    …. and add bratschegirl to the list of those I'm with. I hadn't seen hers before posting mine.

  15. Stephen Hart said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 10:21 am

    For what it's worth, Kirkland Signature brand, from Costco, says nothing on any of the labelling to indicate that it has any ingredient other than Parmigiano Reggiano, aged over 24 months and grated. "100% Grated Parmesan Cheese" does not appear on the label.
    It must be kept refrigerated, but never clumps.
    So I'd guess that the cellulose is added to regular store brands for non-refrigerated shelf life, not (entirely) as an anti-clumping agent.
    Also, I would guess that the vast majority of consumers have never grated Parmesan.

  16. satkomuni said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 10:27 am

    Haha. It's like reading about Ithkuil.

  17. Mark P said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 10:33 am

    It's certainly possible that some sellers are adding wood fiber not only to prevent clumping but also to lessen their costs by adulterating the product. I could be convinced otherwise if the amount were always less than one percent, but when it's in the neighborhood of 8 percent, the label is misleading, no matter how contorted the court's reading.

    There is a somewhat similar case in Lowering the Bar ( http://loweringthebar.net/2017/08/short-sub-sandwich-settlement-stupid.html ). In that case, Subway was sued because some of their "foot-long" sandwiches were less than 12 inches long. The court threw out the suit, not because of a linguistic interpretation, but because the judge thought that the suit benefited only the plaintiffs' lawyers and not the plaintiffs themselves. Also because it's really hard to produce a baked bun that's exactly 12 inches long. Before I read Johs W's comment, I would have said that the judge could throw the suit out because no one was suffered any loss. I'm not sure that's true if you expect cheese but get 8 percent cellulose.

  18. Jonathan said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 11:10 am

    Do you people not make lasagna? Grated Italian hard cheese usually comes as either all Parmesan, Parmesan-Romano mixes, or sometimes there's some Pecorino in there. Call it nerd-view if you wish, but that's the context I read the label in, and its intent is clear.

  19. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 11:12 am

    Having now read the opinion as a whole, I think the strongest point in Judge Feinerman's analysis (Gary's analysis? full disclosure: I knew His Honor a little bit way back when we were both college freshmen and it's always a bit odd when someone you knew in your teens becomes important enough in later life that referring to them by first name seems the wrong register) is the point that the reasonable consumer knows that cheese is not shelf-stable at room temperature, so any cheese product on a regular shelf in the supermarket rather than in a refrigerated case presumptively has *something* (usually a something that will be described in the label's fine print) to keep it from spoiling. From the face of the opinion it's not clear that the plaintiffs' lawyers made the alternative argument advanced by some commenters here (which could have created tension among them when they were trying to present a united front) that "ok, maybe 100% doesn't mean literally 100.00%, but even if it's consistent with 97 or 98 % it's not consistent with <90%, or at least there are unresolved empirical questions about how far below 98% it could be before the reasonable consumer would, in fact, be deceived in context.

  20. Andreas Johansson said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 11:15 am

    My spontaneous reading was that "100%" applied only to "Grated", not to "Parmesan Cheese". Which, of course, gets it filed under annoying marketing lingo – I'd probably be more likely to buy the thing if the "100%" had been removed.

    Honestly not sure how they should've expressed it to make me naturally read the percentage as refering to "Parmesan Cheese".

  21. Anna said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 11:36 am

    I'm with bratschegirl.

    7.8% up to almost 9% cellulose is A LOT! I suspect the additive is not merely an anticaking agent, I think the primary purpose is to dry out the product so that it doesn't need to be refrigerated (as Stephen Hart suggested). I have long since given up on pregrated Parmesan because it doesn't melt properly. The cheese has been denatured.

  22. Nicholas said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 11:42 am

    Say I take a 5 pound bag of flour, or rice, or, I don't know, cocaine, and add a tablespoon of freshly grated Parmesan. Would it be accurate to name said package "100% grated Parmesan cheese", regardless of what the ingredient list says? All the cheese in the package is Parmesan, and all of it is grated, but no reasonable person would think that is an accurate name.

    What if we change it to half Parmesan (doesn't really matter of by weight or volume)? Or 3/4? Surely if you take a jar of pure Parmesan and add 3% hot sauce people would object to calling that 100% grated Parmesan cheese. The main or even dominant ingredient is not enough. We could draw the line at de minimis, but that non-bright-line test will require a lot of Court time before dismissal.

    As a consumer, context does matter. When buying canned tomatoes I know I can get them with spices or without. Spices are probably like 0.1% by weight or volume, but they may not be appropriate for a certain dish, so if I want non-spiced tomatoes and I see "100% diced tomatoes", with no asterisk or qualification, I won't go looking at the ingredient list to see if there's oregano and will be disappointed when I get home and find there is some.

    Does a reasonable know what's in grated Parmesan? Maybe. I figured there probably would be extra stuff because grated Parmesan from a jar tastes terrible (probably due to the staleness, not the anti-caking agent), so I figure there's likely some crap in there. But if I saw 100% grated Parmesan cheese I'd think, okay, this jar doesn't have that other stuff. If I had only ever eaten fresh Parmesan, which was the case for most of my life, then upon seeing a jar of the grated stuff written "100%" I might think it's the fresh stuff, only grated. I also know someone who had only ever had grated Parmesan and once she tried fresh stuff found them completely different and wondered how that could be as they're the same single ingredient.

    I've never seen a jar of half grated and half whole Parmesan cheese, because that's a dumb product. Also, I've never seen a jar of 70% Parmesan and 30% other cheese because in cheese mixes you use as little Parmesan as possible because it's so expensive. A reasonable consumer is not going to think either of those situations is going to be what "100% grated Parmesan cheese" differentiates from because those products don't exist, and no reasonable person would see a product called "grated Parmesan cheese" and think "I wonder if that's actually a cheese mix with 5% Parmesan and 95% other cheese?". The 100% is superfluous if it refers to the gratedness or type of cheese.

    When you buy an expensive product, whether Parmesan or beauty products or a nice cut of meat, marketers use the term "100%" to signify purity and quality and no extra additives. Ivory soap prides itself on being 99-44/100% pure, not even 100% pure. If they wanted to just describe grated Parmesan cheese with only a small amount of things that keep it fresh or from caking, they can just drop the percent. Using 100% makes people think it's pure when it's not, and the only reason to add it is to confuse people by making people think it's specifically the thing it's not, not to differentiate it from products that don't exist.

    To address the companies, maybe I can give some slack for 0.3%, but 8%, come on, you know what you're doing and got caught. This is a silly lawsuit in the grand scheme of things, but you skirted the line of honesty to try to deceive to make your product seem different than it was so you could sell it for more money. Your hands are not clean; at the very least they're caking.

  23. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 11:43 am

    Professor Tushnet points out that ungrated large chunks of hard cheese like parmesan are often offered for sale at room temperature, casting doubt on the reasonable-person background understanding of the likely presence of something extra to make the product shelf-stable at room temperature. But supermarkets that sell freshly grated parmesan (in a generic little plastic container like the sort the guy behind the deli counter would give you your half pound of potato salad in) sell it refrigerated, and if you don't put it in the refrigerator at home it's not going to last very long before getting visibly moldy. That strikes me as the relevant comparison, but there's a deep question here (not about language but about the least-bad way to run a court system in an imperfect world full of inevitable tradeoffs) about how quick or slow a judge should be to assume from his/her own common-sense understanding of the world what a reasonable consumer will or won't understand in context. Too quick means the judge might be wrong, especially since judges typically come from SES backgrounds remote from that of the typical/median consumer. Too slow means that bogus cases can't get weeded out quickly and cheaply, which creates incentives (because of the cost of defense) for defendants to pay off lawyers for cases everyone knows would prove to be bogus if enough time and resources were invested in fighting them out to the bitter end.

  24. flow said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 11:50 am

    Just here to say if this wasn't the Make Linguistics Grate Again blog but me in the supermarket, I'd howl at finding out that a container labelled "100% Grated Parmesan Cheese" contained over 5% or maybe even only over 1% other stuff. That border line is hard to draw; clearly, some additives are worse than other. The judge is certainly right in that the label could be interpreted as saying "all of the cheese herein is grated", or "as for the cheese herein, that's 100% Parmesan". However, that is not the question. The question is, "what will consumers understand when reading the label", "are consumers mislead by the label", "are consumer interests damaged by the label", and so on. And I guess apart from the 1 commenter in this thread who acknowledged that of course they expect their supermarket products to contain substances beside those indicated in the bold print, we can all agree that not only it is reasonable to read "100% Grated Parmesan Cheese" as "contains nothing but x", where x is exactly "Grated Parmesan Cheese", period.

    What's much worse though is that the judge was apparently not in a mood to see that the very *reason* there's that "100%" thing on the label (and maybe even the fact that it has been intentionally arranged so that lawyers can later plausibly claim it only refers to the "grated" part) is exactly to assure the consumers that the container only holds grated Parmesan cheese and nothing but grated Parmesan cheese (even if judges, linguists and teachers of English are able to construe other possible readings). I think at least those products labelled "100%" that still contain in the vicinity of 8% cellulose are / should be at peril here because it is obvious that the producers are lying to consumers, and substantially [pun intended] so.

  25. David P said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 11:59 am

    My take from all the comments is that if it says it's 100% Parmesan Cheese it probably isn't; but if it just says Parmesan Cheese it might be 100% and therefore belongs in the refrigerator.

  26. Nick Z said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 1:06 pm

    Apologies if this is felt to be off-topic, but I was struck by the use of 'shaky' in 'containers of shelf-stable, processed shaky cheese'. I take it to mean here 'capable of being expelled from its container by means of shaking'. If I had to express this meaning, I suppose I would go with shakeable – as a 30-something year-old British English speaker, 'shaky' to me is more-or-less synonymous with 'wobbly'.

  27. Gregory Kusnick said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 1:14 pm

    I think Jonathan has the right reading. If the label said something like "100% Parmesan Grated Cheese Product", the intent would be clear: this is some sort of processed, adulterated, cheese-based food substance (see ingredients list for details), and the cheese component is all Parmesan rather than some blend.

    No doubt there's some regulatory loophole that lets them call it "cheese" rather than "cheese product" so long as the adulterants remain below some specified percentage (though 8% seems rather high to me).

    So the question then is how did they get from "100% Parmesan Grated Cheese" to "100% Grated Parmesan Cheese"? Deliberate intent to confuse is certainly plausible, but can we rule out the possibility that this is the result of some sort of knee-jerk peevishness about adjective order?

    That said, anybody who makes lasagna with this stuff is Doing It Wrong.

  28. Mae said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 1:21 pm

    Ingredient list for 100% Beef hot dogs, Ball Park brand:

    The food industry … changing the meaning of language along with the meaning of food.

  29. Viseguy said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 1:39 pm

    I'm with Nicholas. "99-44/100% grated Parmesan cheese" would be unambiguously false on these facts; a fortiori, "100% grated Parmesan cheese" is false. Although, as a matter of semantics, the judge's ambiguity argument might be tenable, as a lawyer I'd much rather see courts avoid this sort of pettifogging, especially in an arena like consumer protection that directly impacts the person on the street. In real life, I think, it would not occur to any but the nerdiest of consumers that the label might mean "100% grated", or "100% of the cheese is Parmesan", or anything other than "what is in this container is 100% Parmesan cheese, grated". So I think the label, standing alone, is misleading, and intentionally so — though the question whether the ingredient panel rescues it is a nice one, the answer to which may depend on the intent behind the law (with which I'm not conversant).

  30. Jerry Friedman said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 1:56 pm

    Jonathan: At least one person here doesn't make lasagna. But I'd say the right ways to distinguish those kinds of cheese include things like "Grated Parmesan Cheese", "Grated Parmesan and Romano Cheese", "GRATED PARMESAN CHEESE with Romano", and "GRATED ITALIAN CHEESE MIX Parmesan-Romano-Pecorino". To me, "100%" must imply purity here.

    I wonder whether linguists have studied what fraction of people understand things as courts have said "reasonable people" understand them.

  31. Peter Taylor said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 2:19 pm

    @Gregory Kusnick, I think the photo at the top of the page is a good indication that the word ordering is not a question of peeving but rather of graphic design.

    I had a look at the full opinion, because it seemed strange to me that the ruling should look at the words without taking into account the relevance prominence given to them by the graphic design, and I'm surprised at what isn't quoted above.

    But, as noted, there are at least three reasonable ways to interpret "100% Grated Parmesan Cheese" — and Plaintiffs' nothing-but-cheese reading is, in context, the weakest of the three.

    The judge thinks that "100% grated" (which I briefly considered before rejecting it on the grounds that if gratedness were a non-binary option then 100% grated must mean something like "reduced to a molecular dust") is a more plausible interpretation than "100% Parmesan cheese, grated".

    It's also curious that the opinion mentions some of the different phrasings in some of the suits which were combined, including "100% Grated Three Cheese Blend", but doesn't address the hole that creates in the "at least three reasonable ways to interpret". There's surely no reasonable consumer who could think that "100%" modifies "Three Cheese" (as opposed to being 90% a three-cheese blend and 10% a fourth cheese)? And coming back to the graphic design, one of the photos in the ruling clearly says "Parmesan" in large green letters, followed by "100% Grated Cheese" in smaller gray letters: to argue that "100%" modifies Parmesan there requires arguing also that "Cheese" modifies Parmesan.

  32. Peter Taylor said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 2:21 pm

    I proofread the above comment twice and still failed to pick up the substitution of "relevance" for "relative". Oops.

  33. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 2:22 pm

    More broadly to Jerry F's point, I wonder if there are good studies re what percentage of grocery-store shoppers read the ingredient lists carefully and who and why. Obviously people with concerns about allergies or people with fairly specific religious/ethical scruples are probably more likely to read the fine print rather than to take sufficient comfort from the "headline" on the label, but there might be other patterns you could find, and you also might be able to zoom in on what's really driving cases like this, i.e. regardless of what they think "100%" means, what percentage of consumers actually care about the difference between 100% and 97% (or whatever) who aren't the sort of people who are likely to read the fine print regardless. I.e. if you don't read the ingredient list to what extent are you rationally just taking the risk that it's not exactly what you expect but unlikely to be different enough to change your purchase decision, essentially the same way you do when you click the box on an internet site saying you've read all the terms and conditions even though you have not, in fact, read all the terms and conditions.

  34. Narmitaj said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 2:30 pm

    In Europe, of course, the Kraft stuff wouldn't be called Parmesan at all – it would be 100% NOT Parmesan, whether 100% grated or not. This Forbes article (by Larry Olmstead, author of Real Food, Fake Food), is from 2012.

    "I noted in my last column that by law, Parmigiano-Reggiano is allowed to contain only three very simple ingredients: milk (produced in the Parma/Reggio region and less than 20 hours from cow to cheese), salt, and rennet (a natural enzyme from calf intestine). Three other ingredients, Cellulose Powder, Potassium Sorbate, and Cheese Cultures are not found in Parmigiano-Reggiano – they are completely illegal in its production. Yet all three are in Kraft 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese (I’m not sure if that means it is supposed to be 100% “parmesan” or simply 100% grated, which it certainly is). It’s far enough from the real thing that Kraft was legally forced to stop selling its cheese labeled Parmesan in Europe."

    As none of the Kraft stuff is real Euro-region-protected Euro-legal Parmesan, then the US-Kraft powder product named "Parmesan" can presumably be anything in any combination of wood chips, dairy solids and flour, so long as it is listed on the ingredients label – the front label really means "100% Grated Kraft-Designated Powder Product in Tube".

    See also Wiki-P

  35. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 2:35 pm

    A final procedural point. This dismissal is w/o prejudice and with leave to amend, meaning that if plaintiff's lawyers think they can save their case by adding more particularized detail to their factual allegations (which could include e.g. how a reasonable consumer would understand the packaging and why it's plausible to think so) they're allowed to try. Their deadline (possibly subject to extension if they ask) is next Thursday. I'm not sure they're looking for unsolicited advice from the LL commentariat as to how to improve their pleading, but it's a free country and a little bit of googling ought to turn up the contact info of the lawyers to whom unsolicited suggestions could be directed. (The procedural alternative is to decline the opportunity to try again, which would then give plaintiffs the right to go straight to the appellate court and try to convince a panel of judges there that Judge Feinerman's decision was erroneous.)

  36. Ralph Hickok said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 2:37 pm

    "Cellulose" doesn't mean wood pulp! There's cellulose in every plant, not just in trees, and everyone who eats vegetables consumes cellulose. The cellulose used to prevent clumping in grated cheese is not wood pulp. It's derived from vegetable fiber,

  37. Tim said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 2:39 pm

    As a data point for Nick Z, in my house it's called "shaker cheese".

  38. Anna said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 2:39 pm

    Table salt always contains some type of anticaking agent but they never draw attention to the fact on the front label. The maximum use level is lowish, less than 1% and probably closer to 0.1%. So there are restrictions, probably because those chemicals aren't all that good for you.

    But cellulose is a very benign additive, it's just fiber. So there are no health concerns.

    According to this article the FDA allows cheese products to contain up to 4% cellulose. The article skirts the question how much cellulose is actually necessary for anticaking purposes. But it more or less implies that 2% would suffice.

    "What happens is that [cellulose] just passes through your body. It doesn't give you anything other than bulk. And it gives the company a higher profit," says the Policy Director at the Center for Food Safety.

    It seems to me that the grated cheese industry uses cellulose liberally as a filler. But the substance is classified as an anticaking agent So they're not really required to come clean as to how adulterated their product really is.


  39. BZ said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 2:58 pm

    It does seem from the design of the package that "100% grated" is the intended meaning, but that makes no sense because it's either grated or it's not. Why would someone sell 50% grated cheese? But I would expect 100% cheese regardless of whether 100% was there or not. However, cheese is not a monolithic item. I wouldn't expect "cheese" to even be in the ingredients. I'd expect whatever the cheese is made of. Can cellulose be a cheese ingredient?

  40. Ethan said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 2:59 pm

    Far be it from me to defend the sale of 8% cellulose in a product labeled "100% anything edible", but I think Mae's listing of the ingredients in "100% beef hot dogs" is a good starting point for baseline expectations by a shopper. I would take that "100% beef" to mean "no pork or other non-beef meat in these hot dogs". Unflavored meat is normally sold as "ground beef/pork/whatever", not as some kind of sausage, even as bland a sausage as grocery-store hot dogs. Thus additional ingredients are expected (flavoring and maybe preservatives). So I guess that puts me in the class of shoppers who would expect "100% Parmesan cheese" to mean "no other kinds of cheese" rather than "no other ingredients". As noted by others above, for unadulterated Parmesan I would head to the cheese counter or deli case.

  41. Ellen K. said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 3:23 pm

    Narmitaj, you ignore the distinction between "Parmesan" and "Parmigiano-Reggiano". They are not the same, and the Kraft product does not claim to be Parmigiano-Reggiano.

  42. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 3:46 pm

    When there are regulations in place about exactly what sort of food or beverage can or can't be marketed as "X" you get a complicated feedback thing where consumers' expectations are influenced by the regs, although frankly their folk sense of what the regs do/don't require is not always accurate. Because there can be significant differences in those regs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, consumer expectations (and thus how particular lexemes will tend to be understood) will also vary. For various historical reasons, US law and thus US consumer expectations are less oriented toward geographical origin than the law of many European countries — Americans do not expect "Swiss cheese" to have been produced in Switzerland as opposed to being produced in a particular style that they assume, w/o knowing the details, was originally connected with Switzerland, and for the same reason whatever their baseline expectations of "parmesan" cheese may be, they do not include production in a specified part of Italy.

    US trademark law jargon has developed the rather lovely phrase "deceptively geographically misdescriptive" to deal with the fact that many toponym-based words are, by contrast, non-deceptively misdescriptive if taken literally, e.g. the reasonable consumer does not presume that PATAGONIA-branded outerwear is actually manufactured in the southerly parts of Argentina. There are of course borderline cases , such as whether the reasonable consumer expects "Arizona Iced Tea" to actually have been produced in that state? Lack of consensus on that question led to a lawsuit ….

  43. Jonathan said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 3:47 pm

    @JerryF, your terminology sounds the most honest. Though I neglected to mention that I have seen mixes that explicitly state that they are 50%/50% or 80%/20% Parmesan/Romano. So I guess I've been conditioned to interpret percentages on Parmesan mixes that way. I suppose they could market theirs as "A 92%/8% Parmesan/Cellulose mix", which would probably kill sales.

    And while it's not specifically pertinent to this discussion, I can't help think about the package I once saw in the cheese section of a grocery store where the top label in big letters said "Pizza Topping" and at the bottom in smaller letters it said "Warning: Keep refrigerated. Contains cheese."

  44. V said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 3:54 pm

    I'm with Jonathan, I presumed it meant that 100% of the grated cheese is Parmesan, and not a combination of Parmesan, Pecorino, or Grana Padano.

  45. Andreas Johansson said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 4:16 pm

    BZ wrote:
    It does seem from the design of the package that "100% grated" is the intended meaning, but that makes no sense because it's either grated or it's not.

    Judging by this thread, I'm unusual in not having any strong expectation that this sort of labels do make sense. If I can't immediately make sense of one, I'm likely to assume it's simply nonsensical.

  46. Gregory Kusnick said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 4:32 pm

    BZ: "But I would expect 100% cheese regardless of whether 100% was there or not."

    I would expect freshly grated cheese in the deli case to be 100% cheese. I would not expect that from a shelf-stabilized manufactured product in a jar at room temperature, even if it says "100%" on the label. If that makes me some sort of extreme shopping nerd, so be it.

  47. D.O. said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 4:52 pm

    I would say that seeing Kraft label would make me think about low quality/low price of whatever product a particular store shelf is dedicated to. No more and no less, no matter what is written on the label.

  48. Narmitaj said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 4:54 pm

    @ Ellen K – "Narmitaj, you ignore the distinction between "Parmesan" and "Parmigiano-Reggiano". They are not the same"

    They are exactly the same in European/EU/EEA law, which is what I was banging on about, and why Kraft can't sell their 100% Grate in Europe (according to Olmstead).

    The Wikipedia article linked to says ""Parmigiano-Reggiano", and European law classifies the name, as well as the translation "Parmesan", as a protected designation of origin. […] Outside the EU, the name "Parmesan" can legally be used for cheeses similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano" – but inside the EU, Parmesan=Parmigiano-Reggiano.

    The Olmstead article linked to poins out that "in 2008, European courts decreed that Parmigiano-Reggiano is the only hard cheese that can legally be called Parmesan […] In fact, the use of Parmesan to refer specifically to Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese predates the existence of the United States by about 250 years, when people in other regions of Italy began calling it Parmesano, which means “of or from Parma,” later shortened to Parmesan by the French, the first foreigners to gain a deep appreciation of the cheese’s virtues."

    In the US, Kraft can presumably call pretty well anything they want "Parmesan", using it simply as a brand name, though for clarity in marketing purposes what they do call Parmesan on their packaging is (I assume) something that's a little bit like actual Euro-legal Parmesan.

  49. cameron said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 6:00 pm

    @J. W. Brewer: no, AriZona iced tea products are not from Arizona. They're from AriZona.

  50. Daniel Barkalow said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 6:20 pm

    It seems obvious from the picture that this isn't 100% grated cheese. In fact, the whole outside seems to be plastic and a single solid piece… I would say that it matters whether it contains 8oz of cheese (plus other stuff) or only 8oz of stuff inside the shaker, less of which is cheese. If it only had 7.4oz of cheese, I'd call that sketchy, regardless of whether there was also 0.6oz of cellulose in there or not. If you get 8oz of cheese and also 0.6oz of cellulose and a handy shaker, that's fine by me.

  51. Jonathan D said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 6:22 pm

    Narmitaj, you are right that EU law restricts the definition of "Parmesan cheese" in a way that doesn't apply in other jurisdictions. I'm not sure why you conclude from this that the phrase cannot have any legally binding definition elsewhere, but is simply a matter of branding. There are more options than geographically descriptive or meaningless.

  52. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 6:31 pm

    Kraft's risk-management team presumably counsels them that the cheese part of anything they label "parmesan cheese" for sale in the U.S. should comply with all the particulars of the detailed federal regulation on the subject (21 CFR 133.165), which can be found here: https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=133.165

    If you are a cheese-labeling-regulation connoisseur, you will be happy to learn that part 133 of title 21 of the CFR has specs for almost a hundred other varieties of cheese, offering hours of browsing pleasure.

  53. Andrew Usher said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 6:41 pm

    This illustrates, as well as some people's linguistic misconceptions, that 'consumer protection' laws can misfire by apparently removing the element of intent from liability. Companies can commit blatant fraud if a 'reasonable consumer' (that only exists in the judge's mind) would not be fooled. In this case there's no doubt whatever about what '100% grated parmesan cheese' means. The 100% can't apply to 'grated', and if it meant '100% Parmesan' the makers could have used a different word order – and in any case 'Parmesan' automatically means '100% Parmesan' if unqualified. No, it can only be '100% cheese' (that is, by the way, grated and Parmesan). That is, given the facts here, a lie pure and simple, and only exists so that some consumers might be fooled; at that point no quibbling about a reasonable consumer is in order.

    Of course nothing is absolutely pure, but using the adjectives 'pure', '100%', or '100% pure' (synonymous to consumers) X must include nothing non-X intentionally added. In this case, 'cheese' is the exact product, but in other cases one needs an implied 'made with' and interpretation. To cite the other examples give above, '100% beef hot dogs' can't be literal because everyone knows hot dogs aren't straight meat; it must be 'made with 100% beef' and the interpretation is that no other kind of meat is used (true in that case). '100% whole wheat flour' is also not literal because you are buying a loaf of bread, not flour, so again it's a 'made with' claim and as 'whole wheat' here, like 'beef', is a non-gradable adjective, the interpretation must be that no other kind of flour is used (false in that case; thus fraudulent).

    Finally the poster above and in the European definitions in general are borderline trolling here and definitely snobbish. We don't have those 'geographical origin'; rules for good reason – they serve only as anti-competitive and actually have the potential to confuse consumers by not allowing labeling a product with its commonly known name. I shouldn't have to explain why it's snobbery to imply essentially 'oh, your American imitations are crap anyway, who cares what they're really made of'.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  54. Jim said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 6:44 pm

    The design of the label does clearly indicate that this is parmesan cheese which is "100% grated" — those words are kept together in the same design element and style. If they wanted to indicate that it was 100% cheese, they would have (could have) done the label to indicate that.

    This is, to me, in the same class as "100% Florida orange juice from concentrate" — not 100% orange juice, but 100% from concentrate.

  55. Andrew Usher said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 7:14 pm

    No, Jim, the other brands at issue in this case had different label designs, and anyway the label could have been made that way to be deliberately misleading as another posted suggested. '100% grated' is simply not a sensible meaning, since 'grated' is (as the average consumer cares about it) not gradable. Similarly in your case 'from concentrate' in not gradable – for a single product package, it's either concentrated or it isn't (I agree that the label 'from concentrate' instead of 'concentrated' is basically ungrammatical but it seems to be standard). As 'Florida' can be ignored here, it's simply '100% [concentrated] orange juice', which is just what I'd expect.

    I really can't understand why people are butchering up the language to defend unscrupulous companies!

  56. Gregory Kusnick said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 8:21 pm

    Andrew, there is in fact a difference between concentrated juice that you buy frozen in a can, and ready-to-drink bottled juice whose main ingredient was shipped to the bottler in concentrated form. I don't see how it's ungrammatical to call the latter product "juice from concentrate".

    In any case, I've always assumed that "100% Florida orange juice" meant 100% from Florida, i.e. no imported fruit.

  57. Andrew Usher said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 8:48 pm

    Yes, of course. But the only relevant point stands: the common-sense rules of English require '100%' to be taken to apply to 'orange juice', for the same reason as for 'cheese' in this instance.

  58. bedwetter said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 9:01 pm

    As David P says: 'if it says it's 100% Parmesan Cheese it probably isn't;'

    I can't help wondering: does a case like this inadvertently help to train the 'reasonable consumer' to believe that everything they're told and fed by mainstream institutions, experts and authorities is 'fake'? And is this why we now have a president who is 100% the exact same color(*) as Parmesan cheese?

    (*) Under certain ambient lighting conditions. Please refer to supplemental packaging data for full spectroscopic details.

  59. Adrian Morgan said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 9:11 pm

    So, the use of fonts in this case clearly brackets "100% grated", implying "parmesan cheese that's 100% grated", but the counterargument is essentially Gricean, there being no reason why anyone would expect a blend of grated and non-grated cheese (whatever that would be).

    To me, the visual consideration clearly overrides the pragmatic one. It's OK to disagree, but the ferocity of some people's opinions about cheese is a bit disturbing.

    BTW, I once proposed the word "overpragmaticising", where "you're overpragmaticising" means "you're reading too much into this" (i.e. placing too much emphasis on pragmatic as opposed to semantic elements of meaning), but it didn't catch on. Feel free to take it up.

  60. Jerry Friedman said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 10:12 pm

    Nick Z: I hadn't heard "shaky cheese", but it doesn't surprise me. Young Americans I know seem to be expanding -y a lot, as in "slippy" (slippery) and "peelies" (bits of peeling skin). There are Google hits for "shaky cheese", one of which is a page on "Preschool theme boxes", and that sums up the way the phrase sounds to me. Totally subjectively—I am not a linguist.

    Daniel Barkalow: As far as I know, weights on labels in America always refer to the whole contents, so "8 0z. 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese" couldn't possibly be 8 oz. of cheese and 0.6 oz. of cellulose. If it were, you'd have to know to use a little more to get the same flavor. The cellulose might affect texture, too, since it absorbs water (As people have pointed out, these products are for people whose means are very limited or who don't care much about food quality.) Also, a few people get too much fiber in their diets and might not be well served by getting more.

    Ethan: Speaking of fiber, some foods are over 8% cellulose. Kellogg's All-Bran cereal, for instance, lists 4.7 grams of fiber in a 30g serving.

  61. Jason said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 11:17 pm

    There's prior art on "shaky cheese" from the TV show Home Movies, which also identifies it as children's terminology. I've never heard the term anywhere else, and it's a fairly obscure joke, so I'm curious as to whether the usage here is an intentional reference or independent discovery. I've always thought it was apt for a product that's defined more by its physical format than by any sort of substantive claim as to the provenance of its contents. Here's the clip (at 6:24):


  62. David Morris said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 11:18 pm

    If they withdraw it from the market, it'll be hard cheese for everyone.

  63. Thomas Rees said,

    September 6, 2017 @ 12:28 am

    @Andrew Usher: But the US does have geographic origin laws. Try selling Smithfield ham made in Arkansas – or indeed made in another town in Virginia. Apparently the rules are anti-competitive only if they're not American.

  64. ryan said,

    September 6, 2017 @ 1:29 am

    >To me, given the arrangement of the label, it reads like it's saying Parmesan cheese (which may have added ingredients) that's 100% grated

    You perceive a need to distinguish it from some hypothetical other grated Parmesan where only 70 or 80% is grated, with chunks left to provide texture?

  65. Stephen Goranson said,

    September 6, 2017 @ 3:40 am

    Yesterday at the grocery store on a 5 oz. bag of chips:
    [large font] "60% more"
    [smaller font] "chips for days." [for days?]
    [tiny font] "compared to our 3 oz. bag"

  66. orin ed deniro said,

    September 6, 2017 @ 7:02 am

    From the Wikipedia entry for rye whiskey.

    Rye whiskey can refer to either of two, different, but related, types of whiskey:
    American rye whiskey, which must be distilled from at least 51 percent rye;
    Canadian whisky, which is often referred to as (and often labelled as) rye whisky for historical reasons, although it may or may not actually include any rye in its production process.

  67. Bev Rowe said,

    September 6, 2017 @ 7:26 am

    If a reasonable person is one who uses reason to evaluate evidence, then no reasonable person would be buying this product anyway. I have learnt from bitter (both meanings) experience that almost all preprocessed foods are not worth buying.

    And then there's the wider issue of the inherent and frequent ambiguity of NPs that include qualifiers. Fortunately we seem to resolve the ambiguities on the fly but it almost makes English not fit for purpose.

    Incidentallyu, my first analysis was "100% grated".

  68. BlueLoom said,

    September 6, 2017 @ 8:02 am

    Hot off the presses! In today's (Sept 9) Washington Post food section, the grocery chain Harris Teeter is offering the following:

    "80% Lean Ground Chuck"

    Anyone want to parse what's in the other 20%?

  69. Narmitaj said,

    September 6, 2017 @ 8:21 am

    @ Andrew Usher – I don't mean to seem to be trolling, but in a discussion of what Kraft's "100% Grated Parmesan Cheese" means, the observation that in a large chunk of the world it is by legal definition 0% Parmesan was, I thought, Quite Interesting.

    With regards to "it's snobbery to imply essentially 'oh, your American imitations are crap anyway, who cares what they're really made of'" – if it is snobbery, it is more foodie than Eurocentric snobbery; Larry Olmstead, the author interested in "real and fake food" from whom I quoted is American, as far as I can see. It is he who says "The American translation is also Parmesan, but when you buy it here, you could be getting almost anything".

    I used to live in Cheddar, and now live about four miles away. Obviously it is quite famous for its cheese, but Cheddar is made almost anywhere except Cheddar (bar one mostly tourist-related and expensive location in the Gorge). You can get Irish and Canadian Cheddar in the local supermarkets and no-one bats an eyelid or thinks it's wrong. Cheddar is now more a process (cheddaring) than a location and has no Protected Designation of Origin (though specified West Country Farmhouse Cheddar has, with the milk coming from four specified counties in the south-west of England).

    I'm not too much of a food snob myself. Though I like vintage Farmhouse Cheddar, and even had a summer job turning over 60lb truckles of Cheddar in the no-gone Crump Way Cheese Factors warehouse in Wells in 1977 (where I also dislocated a kneecap falling down stairs in Wellington boots), my general daily mousetrap is made in Co. Tyrone (Northern Ireland) and bought in 830g blocks from Lidl (a German cheap supermarket chain).

    I will draw the line at calling the aerosol Easy Cheese any kind of Cheddar, mind you, and will receive accusations of snobbery with violins and equanimity.

  70. Narmitaj said,

    September 6, 2017 @ 8:32 am

    @ BlueLoom – I suppose 80% Lean Ground Chuck could mean the rest is fat as a different way of a company like Sainsbury's saying Beef Mince 20% Fat, or that the 20% is some other part of beef, or some other animal entirely. I guess then you really should read the ingredients label! (though given things like the horsemeat-insertion scandal in the EU a year or two ago, the ingredients label might not itself be 100% honest).

  71. Ellen Kozisek said,

    September 6, 2017 @ 8:38 am

    After reading all the comments, I realize I should have been more explicit in my original comment early on (before most of the comments). I still think the natural interpretation of the words as arranged is that it's 100% grated… except this makes no sense as something to say. But to me, this simple leaves NO reasonable interpretation of the label. Thus, if I wanted to understand what it means, I would read the ingredients. There simply is no reading that fits well with what's on the label. Marketing gibberish.

    It seems like some people reading labels make the same kind of assumption as they would when listening to people talk, that the label or person is saying something reasonable, and thus they try to fit a nonsense statement into something sensible. This I think is unwarranted here. This label can only mean "100% cheese" if we assume they were trying to say that but messed up and it came out wrong. Given that it's a package label from a major brand, it seems much more likely that they were being purposely vague than that they were trying to lie (and say it's 100% cheese) but messed up the wording. It's wrong, I think to try to read a reasonable interpretation into the label. No, the point was to be vague.

  72. Martha said,

    September 6, 2017 @ 9:35 am

    As a consumer of the substance in question (as well as the fresh stuff, for different dishes), I will come right out and admit that I have always interpreted it as "100% cheese."

    However, my thinking has always been along the lines of what BZ was saying above. I'm not a cheese expert, but why can't cellulose be a cheese ingredient? I've always considered this kind of cheese product to be cheese that they've done something to to allow it to be shelf stable, not non-cheese. So it is 100% cheese, just cheese that they've "done something to," and "doing something" can include using additives.

    (Don't ask me where I personally perceive something as ceasing to be cheese after too much tinkering, but if it comes out of a pump, I wouldn't consider "100% cheese" to be honest.)

    At any rate, If we are to assume that it isn't, in fact, 100% cheese, I'm in the camp that believes that although "100% grated" is a possible interpretation, it's a ridiculous one, and therefore intended to deceive, because there's no reason to include the 100% to describe "grated."

    (Also, I've always interpreted "100% Florida orange juice" to mean all of those oranges came from Florida.)

  73. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 6, 2017 @ 10:03 am

    Turns out there's also a US federal regulatory definition (link below) of "grated cheese" which specifies that antimycotics and anticaking agents may be added w/o having to so indicate in the name (whereas spices and other flavorings must be specified in the name). The regs go on at greater length re how to describe what sort of cheese or cheeses the cheese part of a particular "grated cheese" contains. Against this background (i.e. the "nerdview" perspective of someone who understands the regs) I think the most natural parse (w/o getting into typography) is that, in context, the word "grated" specifically discloses the possible presence (strong enough possibility to alert the reader to check the ingredients list if they want to be sure) of certain ingredients other than cheese (viz antimycotics and/or anticaking agents), and that "100% parmesan" thus means that 100% of the part of the "grated cheese" that is "cheese" is "parmesan cheese." Whether "this makes perfect sense to someone who knows the details of the FDA regs" should be a complete defense to a claim that the label misleads consumers is a perhaps question for Public Policy Log rather than Language Log. I guess put in LL terms, the regulatory meaning of "grated cheese" is mildly idiomatic rather than 100% compositional from the common-sense meanings of "grated" and "cheese."

    I should also note that, if I understand the regs correctly at first read (this is definitely not my professional specialty), anything sold in the US as "grated parmesan cheese" w/o further qualification must have 100% of the cheese component be parmesan. Thus, the "100%" may be a redundant claim ("our water is wet!") of the sort that is not uncommon in advertising.


  74. Mark P said,

    September 6, 2017 @ 10:05 am

    @Thomas Rees – Smithfield hams are protected by Virginia law. Since Virginia law does not control the sale of hams in Arkansas, I presume someone there could sell a ham and call it Smithfield. Unless, that is, the term "Smithfield ham" is trademarked. In that case, it would be at the discretion of the owner of the trademark.

  75. NW said,

    September 6, 2017 @ 10:18 am

    It would never have occurred to me that the 100% could modify either of the modifiers. That would just sound like a joke, a pun. Before reading these comments I assumed that the legal question was whether 100% cheese was allowed to contain anything else at all. The linguist in me says most people interpret '100%' as 'entirely', but the mathematician or scientist says that 100% is not 100.0%, and if you round to whole numbers then it's true that it's 100% cheese if it has less than 0.5% everything else. The consumer in me likes good cheese but doesn't know which of the other selves to agree with.

  76. cameron said,

    September 6, 2017 @ 11:19 am

    DJ's "Comment of the Week"-winning comment from Monday morning echoes this cartoon from a couple of weeks ago: http://comicskingdom.com/bizarro/2017-08-18

  77. Ralph Hickok said,

    September 6, 2017 @ 11:47 am

    "Make America Grate Again" has been around for a while, dating back to Trump's campaign. There were and probably still are T-shirts, caps, and a cheese grater bearing the slogan. A Facebook page bears the name and there was a mock "Ban Pre-Shredded Cheese: Make America Grate Again," which failed to note that shredded cheese and grated cheese are quite different products.

  78. Haamu said,

    September 6, 2017 @ 2:04 pm

    I'm compelled to add this, from the 2017 Minnesota State Fair (just ended) — Scarecrow competition, Senior Citizen division:

    (Credit to the artist, Erik Biever of Lauderdale, MN.)

  79. Haamu said,

    September 6, 2017 @ 2:08 pm

    (Ok, images don't post, I guess — first time I tried that — understandable, but worth a shot.)

    Here's my photo of a "Make America Grate Again" scarecrow. Make sure to notice the faces (large and small).

  80. Ryan said,

    September 6, 2017 @ 4:14 pm

    @BlueLoom and Narmitaj

    I think it's relatively well understood that in this context, the percentage refers to the leanness of the meat, i.e. the percentage that isn't fat, such as in the old (Old OLD) joke:

    Woman: Hi, I'd like a pound of ground beef, but can you make it lean?
    Butcher: Yes, ma'am, which way?

    From a more technical standpoint, the USDA requires that all ground meat contain between 3 and 30% fat, thus leading to meat that's between 70 and 97% lean.

  81. Jerry Friedman said,

    September 6, 2017 @ 9:51 pm

    Ralph Hickock: There was an exciting subthread at alt.usage.english about whether what you get by grating cheese with the biggest holes on the grater can be called "shredded cheese".

  82. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 7, 2017 @ 1:24 pm

    Jerry F. and Ralph H.: don't rely on alt.usage.english; consult a competent lawyer. The FDA reg I linked to in my 10:03 am comment of yesterday addresses the issue of what "shredded" means in this context, at least if you're planning to sell something in the US and want to know whether calling it "shredded cheese" on the package will or won't get you in trouble with the authorities.

  83. BZ said,

    September 7, 2017 @ 1:42 pm

    I've seen juices and other beverages where there was juice from concentrate and not from concentrate in the same product, so "100% from concentrate" would be a logically valid statement, though not something anyone would likely advertise. That said, I would not interpret "100% Florida orange juice from concentrate" to mean "100% from concentrate". Nor would I interpret it to mean "The part that is juice is 100% from Florida, but there's other stuff there too". Much like with the cheese, I submit that removing "100%" does not change the meaning at all. I would expect "Florida orange juice from concentrate" to be 100% juice from concentrate (meaning it includes water sufficient to reconstitute) which is 100% from Florida. The 100% is for emphasis and therefore does not add to the meaning.

  84. Jerry Friedman said,

    September 7, 2017 @ 6:11 pm

    J. W. Brewer: Undoubtedly good advice, but the discussion in a.u.e. was about common usage, not commercial labeling or getting in trouble.

  85. tangent said,

    September 8, 2017 @ 12:23 am

    "To me, the visual consideration clearly overrides the pragmatic one."

    Interesting. What does that mean though, overrides it in daily life, or only in a courtroom decision?

    I mean, have you literally always read this packaging as intending "no ungrated lumps in here"? Did you wonder if they might have made a layout mistake to lead you to this?

  86. tangent said,

    September 8, 2017 @ 12:29 am

    I think J. W. Brewer has the key regulatory point, that "grated cheese" is not compositional. It's not just cheese that's been grated. And this is the 100% parmesan flavor of that, whatever parmesan is defined as.

    So not only does it not make sense to bind a percentage to a not-really-gradable "grated", it additionally does not make sense to ask it to pull out one element of a non-compositional phrase.

  87. tangent said,

    September 8, 2017 @ 12:32 am

    Incidentally, the 9% fiber isn't what's making this moldproof. That's antifungal agents.

  88. David Marjanović said,

    September 8, 2017 @ 12:25 pm

    I interpret such percentages as applying to everything that follows. There is grated parmesan cheese, and it makes up 100% of the contents of this glass (other than a bit of air). There is juice made from concentrate which was made from oranges from Florida, and that juice makes up 100% of the contents of the package…

  89. amy said,

    September 9, 2017 @ 11:38 am

    Maybe the manufacturers would be better off advertising with tolerance ranges: "100%(+/-10% ) grated parmesan cheese"… which would of course be less expensive than the "100%(+/-5% ) grated parmesan cheese", or the "100%(+/-1% ) grated parmesan cheese"

  90. hsweeney said,

    September 9, 2017 @ 1:42 pm

    > "80% Lean Ground Chuck"
    > Anyone want to parse what's in the other 20%?


  91. Jay said,

    September 10, 2017 @ 9:01 am

    > "80% Lean Ground Chuck"
    > Anyone want to parse what's in the other 20%?


  92. Bev Rowe said,

    September 12, 2017 @ 7:27 am

    There's an ad in today's Guardian for a "100% boiling water tap". Don't they mean 100°?

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