Cheese Underground aka Jeanne Carpenter has written about the FDA’s ruling on aging cheese. Apparently, though wood is antibacterial in nature, and cheeses have been aged on wood for literally thousands of years, cheese makers in the US are no longer allowed to age cheese on wooden boards. Dr. Cliver’s study backs up what I say about wood being antibacterial – more so than plastic. Wood contains chemicals that prevent bacterial growth and in some cases are actively bactericidal. That’s why Pine-Sol is a cleaner – the pine chemicals kill bacteria.
Though I notice that cheeses aged on wooden boards that are made in other countries are still allowed to be imported — I check my supermarket’s selection of cheeses regularly for new and interesting varieties. The FDA’s ostensible reasoning for this ruling is listeria, among other things — CDC advice to customers is an article regarding cheese recalled due to listeria and what customers should do with the cheese. I would like to point out that Roos Foods supplies Mexican type soft cheese all over the nation. There were a grand total of 8 people sickened by listeria, 1 of whom died. I was unable to find the age of the person who died, but I believe it was a miscarriage and the mother survived, at least that’s my impression based on comments about this on other blogs. I am saddened that someone died, and I feel bad for the people that got sick, but there are some things about this that bear a closer look.
1. Roos Foods supplies Mexican cheese all over the nation under a variety of brands. I myself purchased one of their brands of Mexican cheese on more than one occasion during the time when the cheeses were supposedly under recall and no one got sick from eating it. No one in Arizona was sickened at all.
2. EIGHT people were sickened. Out of millions that bought the cheese. How unsanitary were these facilities?? While one should use the highest standards in producing food, I really have a hard time understanding how dirty their facilities could be if only 8 out of millions were sickened.
3. Why is a company on the East Coast producing cheese that is shipped nationwide? How common sense is that? Why is milk being shipped by the ton to their facility for them to make cheese and send it back to the areas the milk came from? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a cheese making facility near the dairies and sell the cheese locally? Less transit time, less changing of hands, less opportunity for bad bacteria to grow…what’s not to like about this?
4. Soft cheeses are more vulnerable to bad bacterial contamination due to their nature. Which is exactly why they should be produced as close as possible to the dairies supplying the milk.
I really think the FDA is over reaching themselves. They approve medications with no studies other than the ones provided by the drug companies standing to profit by the medications, don’t bother to check actual hard data regarding the statistics provided, and then have to recall 30% of what they approve within a few years or less because of their lackadaisical approval process. Yet they are worried about hard cheeses aged on wood?? Wouldn’t state agricultural and food agencies have a better handle on what’s going on in their own states, and be better able to monitor safety?
The director of the FDA food safety division is a former Monsanto executive. Gee, I wonder what varieties of cheese Monsanto has a hand in that will benefit from this ruling?
All this is going to do is create an underground cheese industry exactly like the raw milk trade. When it comes to food, people will go to almost any length to get what they perceive is better quality, and artisan cheese certainly falls into that category. If the feds want to create yet another underground illegal food trade, this is certainly what they will get from this decision. And with that comes the possibility of increased food borne illness. I am reminded of the saying “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” There will *never* be perfect food safety. Especially not with huge food processing facilities. Rules designed for massive facilities are impractical and counterproductive to impose on small artisan facilities who have a niche market and a huge investment in customer satisfaction — they KNOW bad processing will kill their business, and they’re MUCH more able to monitor procedures than any large scale plant.
I am going to buy a little fridge and start making my own cheeses. I haven’t made cheddar for the simple reason that it needs to be at 52 degrees for an extended period of time, and I wasn’t willing to buy a refrigerator just for cheese. I am rethinking that decision, along with how to make a root cellar in order to store cheeses and vegetables.
I think this ruling will kill the artisan cheese industry in the US.