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Wood you like some shredded cheese

A recent smattering of viral videos across Instagram, Facebook and TikTok are telling people to avoid eating packaged, pre-shredded cheeses, claiming that the powdered substance they’re covered in to prevent clumping is actually “wood shavings,” “bark” or “saw dust.” Source: Today

In the comments sections of such videos, many viewers have shared their alarm at the claims, even saying that they’ll no longer buy shredded cheese. But what do dietitians think?

“These kinds of videos stir up fear in viewers who are already sceptical about our food system and aren’t sure who to trust,” registered dietitian Kristina Cooke told “When information is not coming from a scientifically sound and credible source, it’s almost like playing a game of telephone that gets out of hand.”

The most important thing to know about the claims is that both pre-shredded and block cheeses are healthy and safe to eat, experts say

The powdery or finely grained substance that coats pieces of packaged, shredded cheese is an organic structural compound called cellulose (sometimes labelled as cellulose gum, carboxymethyl cellulose, or microcrystalline cellulose). As a food additive, it prevents the cheese from clumping together in packaging.

“It’s also used in some products as a calorie reducer, an anti-caking agent, a thickener, and to add texture,” Caroline Susie, a registered dietician and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told And because the compound absorbs excess moisture, it also helps prevent mould growth, thereby extending the shelf life of some products.

The cellulose used as a food additive is usually made from wood pulp or cotton lint, according to the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, an independent food and health watchdog group.

“The edible cellulose … used in food is extracted and removed from the non-edible portion,” explains Cooke. “(It) is molecularly the same cellulose that exists in virtually all plant matter.”

In fact, cellulose has the important function of giving plant cells the rigidity they need to maintain their shape, so varying amounts of it are found naturally in all plants and plant-based foods.

The CSPI rates cellulose as safe to consume.

In addition to shredded cheese, cellulose is sometimes added to:

  • Bread
  • Ice cream and other frozen desserts
  • Pancake syrup, condiments and sauces
  • Granola bars
  • Yogurt
  • Dried spices
  • Processed meat
  • Meal replacement shakes
  • Fiber supplements
  • Cellulose is naturally found in fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.

“Celery is especially high in cellulose,” Amy Goodson, a nutritionist and registered dietitian at The Sports Nutrition Playbook, told “If you’ve ever had stringy pieces from celery stuck between your teeth, you’ve experienced cellulose firsthand.”

In either natural or additive form, cellulose is “generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration,” says Jen Messer, a registered dietitian and president of the New Hampshire Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. If it wasn’t, she says it wouldn’t be approved by the agency nor be allowed in literally thousands of products sold in grocery stores across the country.

She says humans lack the enzymes to break cellulose down, so it passes through the digestive system without being absorbed. Cellulose also counts as dietary fiber, though Messer says the amount added to shredded cheese “is so negligible it doesn’t contribute significantly to your daily fibre intake.”

In larger quantities though, naturally occurring cellulose plays a vital role in digestive health and helps promote regular bowel movements. It can also help improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels and aid in feelings of fullness, called satiety, which is why it’s often added to meal replacement shakes.