• Federal Government Cracks Down on Cheese
  • June 17, 2014
  • Law Firm: McDonald Hopkins LLC - Cleveland Office
  • That headline isn’t a typo. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is concerned about the public health safety of using wooden boards to age or ripen cheese. The agency recently cited several New York state cheese makers for using the boards in a recent inspection, saying the "unsanitary" practice was a violation of FDA regulations for safe food manufacturing. But New York has allowed the practice—which is common in artisanal cheese production—for years, and asked the FDA for answers.

    Jeanne Carpenter, a Wisconsin cheese-industry advocate, posted the FDA's response on her blog, Cheese Underground:

     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.

    Cheese industry experts took the response to mean the FDA was banning the use of wooden boards for U.S. cheesemakers. That's not the case, according to the FDA. "The FDA does not have a new policy banning the use of wooden shelves in cheese-making," a spokeswoman said in a statement on Tuesday.

    But the FDA is still keeping an eye on the practice. "Historically, the FDA has expressed concern about whether wood meets this requirement and has noted these concerns in inspectional findings," she said. "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."

    The FDA says this ban is a clarification of existing policy, Carpenter explains, found within the Food Safety Modernization Act, a landmark 2011 bill that shifted the focus from responding to food contamination to preventing it altogether. It also gave the agency more power to conduct inspections of cheese-making facilities, something it had previously left up to the states.