FDA bans aging of cheese on wood

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The future of artisan cheese making may be plastic. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ruled that wooden boards are unsanitary after visiting several New York cheesemakers earlier this year.

Typically, individual states are left to do inspections at cheese plants, and there were no previous reports about a state banning the practice. The change – which FDA calls a “clarification” of a previous rule that has been on the books – extends beyond U.S. borders and would also limit the number of imported artisan cheeses coming into the country, since so many European brands age on wood.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported that FDA reports in 2010 and 2011 stated that listeria monocytogenes could survive on wooden boards even after cleaning and sanitizing. But the University of Wisconsin – Madison’s Center for Dairy Research published a report in 2013 that disagreed with the findings.

Artisan cheesemakers use wood for its taste-enhancing properties, and ease of use and replacement. The alternative is more expensive plastic or stainless steel material, also in use by some U.S. cheesemakers.

An excerpt of FDA’s response is below, as stated in an American Cheese Society member alert:

"Microbial pathogens can be controlled if food facilities engage in good manufacturing practice. Proper cleaning and sanitation of equipment and facilities are absolutely necessary to ensure that pathogens do not find niches to reside and proliferate. Adequate cleaning and sanitation procedures are particularly important in facilities where persistent strains of pathogenic microorganisms like Listeria monocytogenes could be found. The use of wooden shelves, rough or otherwise, for cheese ripening does not conform to cGMP requirements, which require that "all plant equipment and utensils shall be so designed and of such material and workmanship as to be adequately cleanable, and shall be properly maintained." 21 CFR 110.40(a). Wooden shelves or boards cannot be adequately cleaned and sanitized. The porous structure of wood enables it to absorb and retain bacteria, therefore bacteria generally colonize not only the surface but also the inside layers of wood. The shelves or boards used for aging make direct contact with finished products; hence they could be a potential source of pathogenic microorganisms in the finished products."

Sources: Wisconsin State Journal, American Cheese Society member alert

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Pa  |  June, 10, 2014 at 08:53 PM

FDA bans aging cheese on wood? You gotta be kidding. I have a real taste for good cheese. I hate the thought of being forced to spend good hard earned money on bland tasting,or worse yet,plastic tasting cheese. Fact is I will not be forced to spend money on cheese at all. I buy cheese for the flavor and texture. No good cheese, no money spent. It is that simple. This could be the ruling that KILLS the dairy industry. The fluid milk sales have gone down hill for years. I feel that is because the flavor of milk has be compromised by skimming etc. Now they want our cheese to taste like plastic? That is a good way to curb demand for milk. Doesn't the FDA realize that wood has anti- microbial properties ? Not so with plastic! Is there any way to reverse this ruling?

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