Can cheese get me in legal trouble? (Spoilers: It can)

Can cheese get me in legal trouble? (Spoilers: It can)

Cheese has long been a staple in the diet of many. You can even say that it’s a pillar of human culture, with many regions in the world defined by their cheese-making traditions, using artisan techniques developed over thousands of years.

Cheese has graced countless Thanksgiving tables and Christmas banquets, but one thing you wouldn’t normally expect cheese to be is in the center of a legal battle. Here are some of the most bizzare court cases involving the world-renowned dairy product.

In search of real mozzarella

A woman from Wisconsin sued Bagel Bites for including a “Real Cheese” seal on its packaging, stating that the famous pint-sized pizza snack does not in fact contain real mozzarella cheese.

The plaintiff, Kaitlyn Huber, is seeking class-action status for residents of Wisconsin, Arkansas, and Ohio who were purposely misled by Kraft Heinz into buying Bagel Bites with inaccurate packaging labels.

It must be pointed out that the plaintiff comes from the state known as America’s Dairyland, so she must know something about cheese. According to the federal lawsuit she filed, mozzarella cheese has a specific composition: it should be made chiefly from dairy ingredients, with a small amount of “permitted ingredients” such as milk, cream, vinegar, coloring, clotting enzymes, and salt. Per this definition, Bagel Bite’s cheese is not real mozzarella, as it was made of a mix of 'part-skim mozzarella cheese' and 'modified food starch.'

The lawsuit also claims that the additional starch resulted in a 2% decline in the daily recommended value of the protein in the snack, making Bagel Bites less nutritious than if it was made with real mozzarella.

As of the moment, there’s still no final ruling on what is dubbed by many as the “Cheese Suit.” While we wait for a decision, why not try some Bagel Bites and form an opinion on whether or not its mozzarella is the real deal — or if it even really matters.

The grate(d) parmesan debate

Most lawsuits stem from clear reasons, but some are filed because of ambiguous language. Take the case of a class lawsuit in Chicago claiming that five food retailers have been misleading their customers by labeling their cheese as “100% Grated Parmesan Cheese” when in fact it had other ingredients. The 100% grated parmesan cheese product purportedly contained cellulose that was used as a filler, so customers have been getting less cheese than what they paid for.

The presiding judge, U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman, dismissed the case, citing the lack of proof about the retailers purposely deceiving their customers. What’s more, he explained the ambiguity of the phrase “100% Grated Parmesan Cheese”, which could mean:

  1. the product contained 100% parmesan cheese
  2. 100% of the grated cheese was parmesan
  3. the parmesan cheese was 100% grated

Even when presented with a new survey showing that some customers had been led to believe that the grated parmesan they were buying contained 100% cheese, Feinerman didn’t change his decision. He cited that there were reasonable customers in the survey who had believed otherwise. Besides, the packaging of the controversial cheese in question clearly lists “cellulose powder” as an ingredient. We guess that 100% settles this case.

Hot nachos in hot seat

On September 25, 2015, Jennifer Lindahl ordered nachos at the South Lanes Bowling Center — a decision she would come to regret in hindsight. In the complaint she filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, she said that the staff who brought her nachos purportedly poured hot cheese on one of her fingers, immediately causing burns. The employee then proceeded to wipe the cheese off with a rag, causing Lindahl’s skin to be peeled off.

But the misfortune didn’t end there. The suit further states that Lindahl’s injury was "cleaned, debrided, and bandaged without the aid of pain medication" at the United Regional Health Care System's emergency room. The injury worsened over time, requiring her to undergo multiple physical therapy sessions and surgery. The finger burn also incapacitated the plaintiff to a degree, causing her to be given only restricted work hours and eventually lose her job.

For all the trouble she went through as a result of her injury, she is suing the U.S. government and seeking monetary damages amounting to $95,0000 and other relief. Should she win this case, she could definitely buy hundreds of nachos with her compensation.

Legal trouble can come when you least expect it — and it can include the most peculiar things, like aged milk mixed with coagulants. When this happens, call Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams. We are always ready to get you out of a sticky (or cheesy) situation.