Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

Online Only

June 11, 2014

Is the FDA waging a war on artisanal cheese?

WASHINGTON — Is the Food and Drug Administration waging a war on artisanal cheese?

The answer depends on your perspective. But this much is certain: The agency's answer to New York regulators about using wooden boards to age cheese has caused an uproar in the domestic industry and raised questions about the status of imported cheeses that use the same process.

The flap began after FDA inspectors cited several New York cheesemakers for using wooden surfaces to age their cheeses - a technique used for hundreds of years in the United States and even longer in Europe. New York's Department of Agriculture and Markets, which like other states has long allowed the practice, sought clarity from the FDA on the issue.

In response, Monica Metz, an official at the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition's Dairy and Egg Branch, cited federal regulations, writing that using wooden boards for aging cheese doesn't conform to good manufacturing practices and risked spreading harmful pathogens.

"Wooden shelves or boards cannot be adequately cleaned and sanitized," Metz wrote. "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."

Over the weekend, the Cheese Underground, a popular blog run by self-proclaimed cheese geek Jeanne Carpenter, detailed the angst among artisan cheesemakers over the FDA's assertion, which Carpenter called a "game changer."

"A sense of disbelief and distress is quickly rippling through the U.S. artisan cheese community," she wrote.

It didn't take long for apocalyptic headlines and attacks on the "nanny state" to pop up on the Internet.

"FDA May Destroy American Artisan Cheese Industry," proclaimed Forbes. "FDA Rules Against Centuries Old Cheese-Making Process," reported the Daily Caller. "The FDA's Misguided War on Bacteria That Makes Cheese Taste Good," said a Slate column. The libertarian publication Reason called artisanal cheese producers "the latest foodmakers to face destruction from the Food and Drug Administration."

The FDA quickly tried to clarify its position Tuesday, saying that Metz's reply was merely a response to questions raised by New York regulators, not a statement of policy. In fact, the agency said it has no new policy concerning the use of wooden shelves in cheesemaking. Nor does the sweeping 2010 food-safety law address the issue.

Rather, the FDA said in a statement that its regulations state only that utensils and other surfaces that come into contact with food need to be able to be adequately cleaned and properly maintained.

"Historically, the FDA has expressed concern about whether wood meets this requirement and has noted these concerns in inspectional findings," the agency said. "FDA is always open to evidence that shows that wood can be safely used for specific purposes, such as aging cheese. The FDA will engage with the artisanal cheese-making community to determine whether certain types of cheeses can safely be made by aging them on wooden shelving."

That explanation is unlikely to offer much clarity to specialty cheesemakers from New York to Wisconsin to California who are fretting at the prospect of federal regulation upending their livelihoods over an issue they say has never caused health problems.

"Eighty-five percent of my business revolves around aging cheese on wood," said Chris Roelli, a fourth-generation cheesemaker in Wisconsin. "This could be potentially devastating."

Roelli said the wood he uses while aging his cheddar blue cheese helps provide a distinct flavor, controls moisture and allows the rind to develop properly. In addition, he said, the process has been used an a wide variety of cheeses for centuries on both sides of the Atlantic with scant evidence of problems.

He and other cheesemakers pointed to various scientific studies that have concluded wooden boards using in cheese aging are safe. Last year, for example, the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research published a paper reviewing past research and concluded that "the use of wood boards does not seem to present any danger of contamination by pathogenic bacteria as long as a thorough cleaning procedure is followed."

This isn't the first time the FDA has tangled with the upscale cheese community. The agency struck a nerve last year when it began blocking imports of Mimolette, a Gouda-like cheese from France with a small but fervent following in the United States.

For centuries, microscopic mites have been part of the process for making the cannonball-shaped, electric orange cheese. But last spring, FDA inspectors began halting shipments of Mimolette at the border, stranding thousands of pounds of it in warehouses from California to New Jersey. Inspectors said they found too many cheese mites per square inch on Mimolette's cantaloupe-like rinds.

The FDA's actions set off a sort of Mimolette madness among cheese lovers, who called the blockage unwarranted and ill-advised.

On wooden boards, the lack of clarity from the FDA about how forcefully it intends to push the issue has left many artisan cheesemakers in limbo, said Rob Ralyea, a senior extension associate at Cornell University, who made the original inquiry about wood boards to state regulators on behalf of a local cheesemaker.

He said state inspectors have traditionally allowed wooden boards in cheese aging, given their long-standing and widespread use. But if the FDA does not, producers are facing a sort of quandary.

"It's hard to keep two regulatory agencies happy," he said. "You're kind of in a Catch-22 to some extent."

Roelli said he's hoping cheesemakers and the FDA can come to a compromise on the issue. If not, he fears his family's small business might not withstand the upheaval.

 "Everything we're doing right now would have to change. If I'm not able to do that, I have to find a new way to survive," he said. "I don't have a Plan B."

 

1
Text Only
Online Only
  • Police Brutality screen shot. Technology plays key part in battling police brutality (VIDEO)

    Allegations of police brutality are nothing new -- as long as there has been law enforcement, citizens have registered claims that some officers cross the line. But in the last few years, the claims of excessive force are being corroborated with new technology from cell phone cameras, police dash-cams and surveillance videos. 

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Arizona's prolonged lethal injection is fourth in U.S. this year

    Arizona's execution of double-murderer Joseph Wood marked the fourth time this year that a state failed to dispatch a convict efficiently, according to the Constitution Project, a bipartisan legal group.3

    July 24, 2014

  • Facebook continues moneymaking trend

    Facebook seems to have figured out - for now at least - the holy grail for all media right now: how to make money selling mobile ads.

    July 24, 2014

  • Has the iPad lost its swag?

      The company reported this week that sales of its sleek, pricey tablet were down 19 percent from last quarter and 9 percent year-over-year. CEO Tim Cook tried to reassure investors that Apple's new partnership with IBM to sell its devices to IBM's corporate customers will help make iPads ubiquitous in the workplace. "This isn't something that worries us," he said of the iPad sales decline. But the numbers are disappointing no matter how you spin them.

    July 24, 2014

  • Darth Vader is polling higher than all potential 2016 presidential candidates

    On the other hand, with a net favorability of -8, Jar Jar is considerably more popular than the U.S. Congress, which currently enjoys a net favorability rating of -65.

    July 23, 2014

  • Almost half of America's obese youth don't know they're obese

    The good news is that after decades of furious growth, obesity rates finally seem to be leveling off in the U.S.. The bad news is that America's youth still appear to be dangerously unaware of the problem.

    July 23, 2014

  • mama.jpg What we get wrong about millennials living at home

    If the media is to be believed, America is facing a major crisis. "Kids," some age 25, 26, or even 30 years old, are living out of their childhood bedrooms and basements at alarmingly high numbers. The hand-wringing overlooks one problem: It's all overblown.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Sparring justices find little disagreement at the opera

    Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg revealed a different view of U.S. Supreme Court on Saturday when she described about her passion for opera, one she shares with Justice Antonin Scalia.

    July 22, 2014

  • An oncologist uses scorpion venom to locate cancer cells

    Olson, a pediatric oncologist and research scientist in Seattle, has developed a compound he calls Tumor Paint. When injected into a cancer patient, it seems to light up all the malignant cells so surgeons can easily locate and excise them.

    July 22, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 2.00.42 PM.png VIDEO: Train collides with semi truck carrying lighter fluid

    A truck driver from Washington is fortunate to be alive after driving his semi onto a set of tracks near Somerset, Ky., and being struck by a locomotive, which ignited his load of charcoal lighter fluid.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

Featured Ads
Mineral Wells Index


Click on a photo to visit our SmugMug page

Front page
Seasonal Content
AP Video
Arizona Prison Chief: Execution Wasn't Botched Calif. Police Investigate Peacock Shooting Death Raw: Protesters, Soldiers Clash in West Bank Police: Doctor Who Shot Gunman 'Saved Lives' 'Modern Family' Star on Gay Athletes Coming Out MN Twins Debut Beer Vending Machine DA: Pa. Doctor Fired Back at Hospital Gunman Raw: Iowa Police Dash Cam Shows Wild Chase Obama Seeks Limits on US Company Mergers Abroad Large Family to Share NJ Lottery Winnings U.S. Flights to Israel Resume After Ban Lifted Official: Air Algerie Flight 'probably Crashed' TSA Administrator on Politics and Flight Bans Raw: National Guard Helps Battle WA Wildfires Raw: Ukraine's Donetsk Residents Flee Senators Push to End Hamas Threat in Cease-Fire A Young Victim's Premonition, Hug Before MH17 Raw: Deadly Storm Hits Virginia Campground Death Penalty Expert: 'This is a Turning Point' Raw: MH17 Victim's Bodies Arrive in Netherlands
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Stocks
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
Must Read