Green Hotels Association
    March 2016  


Some of you may remember this cellulose (wood fiber) story GHA printed in a 1999 newsletter. It’s definitely one of our all-time most startling stories. See today’s cellulose news following.
Patty Griffin, GHA President

How Much Wood Cellulose
Slime Are You Eating?

60 years ago Dow Chemical gave birth to a laboratory mistake. That product, now marketed under the name Methocel, is currently the No. 1 product of their specialty chemicals and plastics group. In the beginning, Dow chemists were experimenting with wood in an attempt to develop a longer-lasting product. They ground wood into pulp, washed it with chemicals to break it down, and thus created ethyl cellulose (used to make early plastic wrap). Someone in the lab screwed up and added one too many carbon atoms to the molecule, resulting in a goo called methyl cellulose. Having a unique sticky layer whose molecules bond together when heated, Methocel becomes something like cooked egg whites. When cooled, it once again becomes oozing slime.

The product has bounced from pillar to post in an attempt to find a strong market—was even killed twice by Dow over the years because its market was too weak. At first it was used in tile putty and drywall mud as a thickener. And, it continues to be used in many construction-related products today.

Dow says that even though chemicals are used in the manufacturing process, the result is all-natural wood cellulose which is tasteless, odorless and calorie-free. The product's benefactor, Dr. Don Coffee, realized that the slime, already used in some foods, could also be added to soups, sauces, puddings and gravies as a thickener. Frozen pepperoni pizza snacks may be coated with Methocel to reduce tiny puddles of grease from forming. Food companies have been using corn or potato starches for 100 years as thickeners and fillers, but are finding the low cost of Methocel too attractive to pass up.

In 1993, three PhDs were hired to help expand Dow's market further into the food world. 300 employees, including 14 food scientists, now work for the Methocel division which produces 200+ products. The ooey-gooey product has starred in movies such as Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Jurassic Park and The Blob. It is also used by museums to clean artwork.

On a food ingredients label, it will be listed as Methocel or Methylcellulose or perhaps veiled as vegetable gums. Products that you can bite into today that use Methocel 's ooze include: Twinkies' filling, Lean Pockets, Citrucel laxative, Burger King onion rings, Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressings, Marie Callender pot pies, Progresso soups, coated medicine tablets and capsules, veggie burgers, imitation meat and breaded frozen vegetables.

Corporate customers rightfully worry about the reaction of consumers to having a chemical component in their food products. Some even want to keep the ingredient secret. A frozen-food manufacturer, who chose to remain nameless, says Methocel makes cheese cheesier, gravy creamier and fillings fruitier. Without it, he adds, the product is too soft, too hard or too mushy. Perhaps the only consumers who will have a real appreciation for the product will be vegetarians and vegans since they shun all animal products.

Though there may be nothing wrong healthwise with eating wood cellulose, knowing that it is in a food product will definitely not make the food product more appetizing or appealing.

Warren, Susan, “Why Dow Chemical Finds Slime Sublime,”
The Wall Street Journal, November 15, 1999, p. B1, B4

Cellulose in cheese
leads to lawsuits

Kraft Heinz is among companies under legal fire for using cellulose, a filler made from wood chips, in its “100% Grated Parmesan Cheese” product. Lawsuits were filed last week against Kraft Heinz in federal courts in Illinois, New York, Missouri and California. Kraft Heinz couldn’t be reached for comment. Wal-Mart was also sued last week over cellulose, an anti-clumping agent derived from wood chips, in Parmesan cheese.

"Cellulose in cheese leads to lawsuits," Houston Chronicle
attributed to Chicago Tribune, March 1, 2016

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and how your property can be greener,
jump to Green Hotels Association®!

or CALL 713/789-8889 TODAY!


If you want to know if wood is in a processed product, look at the list of ingredients for the words Methocel, Methylcellulose, powdered cellulose or perhaps veiled as vegetable gums. It is most commonly found in cookies, cakes, baked goods, ice cream and many processed foods.




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