Cheese world fears crackdown on wood boards

2014-06-11 15:29

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New York - Aging cheese on wood boards is a common practice among artisan cheese makers in the US and overseas. Now, some in the industry are worried US regulators may crack down on the practice.

In recent communication to the New York regulators, the Food and Drug Administration noted that wood shelves and boards cannot be adequately cleaned and sanitised, and as such do not conform to a particular regulation regarding plant equipment and utensils.

The federal agency also noted that "proper cleaning and sanitation of equipment and facilities are absolutely necessary to ensure that pathogens do not find niches to reside and proliferate".

Much of the cheese that's imported in the US is aged on wood.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the FDA seemed to backtrack on the comments. It noted that it hasn't taken any enforcement action based solely on the use of wood shelves. And while it said it has expressed concern about whether wood can be adequately cleaned, it added that it is "always open to evidence that shows that wood can be safely used for specific purposes, such as ageing cheese".

'Disbelief and distress'

The FDA said it will engage with the artisanal cheese making community to determine whether certain types of cheese can be safely made by ageing them on wooden shelves.

Robert Ralyea, a senior extension associate at Cornell University's Department of Food Science, said ageing cheese on wood is a part of the standard of identity for some cheeses, such as Comte cheese.

Ralyea made the inquiry on wood boards on behalf of a New York cheesemaker to state regulators, who then requested clarity from the FDA. The FDA's communication was posted late last week.

"A sense of disbelief and distress is rippling through the US artisan cheese community," wrote the blog Cheese Underground.

Meanwhile, the American Cheese Society, a trade association, posted an alert to its members. Nora Weiser, executive director for the society, said the aging of cheese on wood boards had never been an issue in the past. She said state inspectors have generally worked with cheese makers to ensure the wood is being properly cleaned.

"We can't guess what they'll do. Their goal is safety, and that's our goal as well," Weiser said. But she added that the American Cheese Society wanted to "preserve this as a method of ageing cheese".

Read more on:    fda  |  us

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