Below are links to additional documents that follow-up on the Listeria outbreak traced to raw milk cheese at Vulto Creamery in Walton, NY. The first is an ACS statement after their Executive Director spoke to the FDA about the resources available on this topic to ACS members. The other is from Janet Fletcher’s excellent cheese blog, Planet Cheese. Janet has some great quotes from leaders in the artisan cheese industry about this issue.
The American Cheese Society has written a letter to the editor in response to an article published on March 10th that detailed an outbreak of Listeria illnesses linked to cheeses made at Vuelto Cheese in Walton, New York. Unfortunately the outbreak has already been linked to two deaths.
The ACS has also just released an issue of their regular member newsletter The Traditional Cheese Advocate that details the resources they have developed for member cheesemakers around the issues in food safety and raw milk cheese production.
As I have been warning Guild members for the past few years, the FDA has now publicly announced that it will abandon the “60 Day Rule” allowing the sale and nationwide distribution of cheeses aged > 60 days.
In advance of this decision the FDA conducted pathogen testing aimed at raw milk cheeses produced by smaller cheese makers across the United States.
In announcing that the FDA would be revising the 60 Day Rule at this year’s ACS Conference, the FDA released the findings of their “swabathon” which found LESS than 1% contamination rate of finished products resulting in NO illnesses or deaths. Whether or not the FDA states this, it is an exceedingly low contamination rate that is most likely as low or lower than that found on cheeses made with pasteurized milk…it’s just unfortunate that the FDA overlooked the opportunity to conduct a parallel study on pasteurized milk cheeses for comparison. Oh snap.
I was about to send around the link to the FDA announcement, but then this dropped into my email box this morning (and if you haven’t already subscribed to Fletcher’s fun and informative newsletter, I’d recommend that you do so…). The link to the FDA statement is included along with Fletcher’s overview of the situation. (She was sitting in the audience along with Jessie and Jillian at the ACS Conference when Dr. Nega Beru, head of FDA’s Office of Food Safety, made the announcement.)
DO NOT ASSUME that this means raw milk cheese will be regulated out of existence, or even that the age of legal raw milk cheese will be lengthened. There has been a ton of scientific work among dairy scientists around the world in the last 10 years that show how many companies consistently produce safe raw milk cheeses of all ages. Organizations like the American Cheese Society have gathered up much of this scientific evidence for the FDA’s review, and federal legislators have publicly reminded the FDA of their promise to base all of their food safety rules on widely accepted scientific methods using public data, and pointed out several cases where they have not done that. In a best case scenario the regulation of raw milk cheeses will be process based (like the pasteurization rule) and not time based — cheesemakers using Best Practices processes (such as those regulated into law in Britain, and/or those currently being refined by ACS) will be able to sell any cheese whether it starts as raw milk or not.
Therefore this is one more reason for cheesemakers everywhere to participate in the public discussion, as well as to actively support those organizations (business and government) that are doing the work to make sure the FDA follows through on their promises. We must make our voice heard in this timely debate.