This Week in Food History: Cheez Whiz is Born

This week in food manufacturing history, we'll take a look at the first domestic case of Mad Cow Disease, the creation of two important food acts and the introduction of Cheez Whiz.

This week in food manufacturing history, we'll take a look at the first domestic case of Mad Cow Disease, the creation of two important food acts and the introduction of Cheez Whiz.

Nothing to moo over

The first domestic case of Mad Cow Disease in the United States was reported on June 29, 2005. 

A 12-year-old cow that had spent its entire life on one ranch until it was taken (near death) to a pet food plant in Waco, Texas, was the first domestic case of mad cow disease in the U.S.

The disease, scientifically known as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), infected the cow that was destined to become pet food. Fortunately, the federal government's testing program kicked in before that was made possible.

After the cow was brought to Champion Pet Foods Inc., employees took samples and sent them to the Texas Veterinary Diagnostic laboratory at Texas A&M University. The lab is one of several the Agriculture Department uses to screen the nation's cattle for mad cow disease. 

Given the cow's age, agriculture officials believed it was most likely infected by eating feed prior to the 1997 ban that forbade the use of cattle parts in cattle feed.

Safe food

On June 30, 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act were passed by Congress.

The purpose of the Pure Food and Drug Act was to protect the public against adulteration of food and from products identified as healthful without any scientific evidence to back up the claim. 

The Meat Inspection Act was the beginning of federal regulations of the U.S. meat, poultry and egg supply. Within months of the release of Upton Sinclairs 1906 novel, "The Jungle," which contained nauseating details about the unhealthy practices of Chicago's meat packing district, the public began to demand reforms of the meat industry.

President Roosevelt called upon Labor Commissioner Charles Neill to examine the industry's practices and found that the practices were actually much worse than those depicted in Sinclair's novel. 

So, the Meat Inspection Act was born. With this Act, all meat processing plants had to follow certain standards for inspections. 

Although the Act has since been amended and strengthened by subsequent acts, like the Wholesome Meat and Wholesome Poultry Products Acts, it was this Act that helped pave the way for the eventual creation of the Food and Drug Administration, among other federal agencies.

Say "Cheese" 

Just about anyone I know has fond memories of spreading Cheez Whiz on crackers (or spraying it directly into the mouth) as a child. But did you know this food was introduced by Kraft Foods more than 60 years ago, on July 1, 1953?

The processed cheese spread was developed by a team led by the food scientist Edwin Traisman, and has been said to have helped blossom the processed food industry as we know it today.

The Cheez Whiz was made up of cheese, emulsifiers and other ingredients that turned this bright yellow sauce into a hit, as consumers nationwide sprayed it on corn chips, cheese steaks, hot dogs and even burgers. 

Keep an eye out next week for more on Food History! You can find last week’s history here. If you know of an important date in food history that you would like to see featured, please email me at

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