#SaveOurCheese: Cheese Artisans Fight Back Against FDA Threats To Their Industry

Recent comments by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about enforcing an old rule threatened to ruin the crafted cheese industry in favor of the “Kraft-ed cheese industry,” according to a recent viral blog post. According to that post, the FDA recently interpreted a very old food safety regulation that has artisanal cheese makers and consumers panicking. Cheese craftsman took to Twitter with their #SaveOurCheese campaign, demanding that the FDA reconsider their opposition to wood in cheese-making.

“The porous nature of wood enables it to absorb and retain bacteria, therefore bacteria generally colonize not only the surface but also the inside layers of wood,” Monica Metz, of the Office of Food Safety, wrote to the New York State Agriculture Department early this year. Metz’s words were at the center of the cheese industry’s uproar.

Despite continual findings that wooden cutting boards are safer than plastic cutting boards, the FDA employee was concerned over wooden planks used for cheese-making. In 1993, the New York Times published findings about the odd nature of wooden cutting boards:

“Dean O. Cliver and Nese O. Ak, stumbled upon the finding while seeking ways to decontaminate wooden boards and make them as ‘safe’ as plastic. Much to their surprise, they found that when boards were purposely contaminated with organisms like Salmonella, Listeria and Escherichia coli that are common causes of food poisoning, 99.9 percent of the bacteria died off within three minutes on the wooden boards, while none died on the plastic ones.

“When contaminated boards were left unwashed overnight at room temperature, bacterial counts increased on the plastic, but none of the organisms could be recovered from the wooden boards the next morning.”

According to the University of Tennessee, the FDA’s very own Food Code states that “‘hard maple or an equivalently hard, close-grained wood may be used for cutting boards and other restaurant food equipment.”

This year, the University of Wisconsin published their findings on the matter. The report concluded, “considering the beneficial effects of wood boards on cheese ripening and rind formation, 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.”

Tuesday, the American Cheese Society made it clear in their position statement that the cheese industry would fight back against FDA regulation.The FDA issued a formal public statement:

“The FDA does not have a new policy banning the use of wooden shelves in cheese-making, nor is there any FSMA requirement in effect that addresses this issue. Moreover, the FDA has not taken any enforcement action based solely on the use of wooden shelves.

“In the interest of public health, the FDA’s current regulations state that utensils and other surfaces that contact food must be “adequately cleanable” and properly maintained. Historically, the FDA has expressed concern about whether wood meets this requirement and has noted these concerns in inspectional findings. 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.”

Forbes Magazine says that the FDA immediately backed down and changed their stance after the industry’s uproar and the #SaveOurCheese pleas. Either the whole thing was a giant misunderstanding or when the Cheese Society stands alone against FDA pressure, it really does just instantly win.

[Image via Zerohund]