FDA Draft Report on Soft-Ripened Cheese Production

The Cheese Reporter reports in their February 8th issue that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), working in conjunction with Health Canada, has released a draft report on their risk assessment of soft-ripened cheese production using pasteurized and raw milk specifically for L. monocytogenes (Listeria). This risk assessment will be used by FDA risk managers to inform their food-safety decisions as they re-evaluate the FDA rules around cheese production.

According to the assessment raw milk cheese presents a higher risk of Listeria contamination than pasteurized milk cheese.

A major finding was that although testing bulk milk used to make raw milk cheese DID reduce the risk significantly, it did NOT reduce the risk as much as testing raw milk cheese lots (which is the current Canadian requirement for raw milk cheeses).

This draft assessment is submitted for comments beginning February 4th, 2013 for 75 days. Comments may be submitted to www.regulations.gov. The docket number is FDA-2012-N-1182

Guild Input Into New Agriculture Conservation and Forestry Dept.

Broadly speaking the legislature has decided to merge the Maine Department of Agriculture with the Maine Department of Conservation. They have also transferred several functions from the State Planning Office to this new “super” department among other smaller moves across state governement.

As these government entities contemplate how to re-organize under this single new entity they are holding public meetings across the state to hear from organizations and individuals who have an interest in this new department, and who want to have input on how it is finally pieced together.

I attended a meeting held on June 26th in Augusta, and following are the recommendation I made on behalf of the Maine Cheese Guild to Commissioners Whitcomb (Ag) and Beardsley (Conservation).

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News About Raw Milk Oversight at Federal Level

In March 2012 the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) released the results of a study titled “Nonpasteurized Dairy Products, Disease Outbreaks, and State Laws—United States, 1993–2006” which is now posted on their web site.

In response to this report, the American Cheese Society issued a “Statement on the Safety of Raw Milk Cheese” which put some of the findings of the CDC study into context, as well as made corrections to some of its statements (such as that it is illegal to sell raw milk cheese in the US). Among the assertions in the ACS statement are: “Raw milk cheese, when produced and sold under current FDA guidelines, can be consumed without unnecessary risk” when that cheese is produced under the following circumstances:

  • producing cheese in licensed facilities that are routinely inspected on the local, regional, and
    federal level
  • producing cheese under the oversight of licensed dairy handlers
  • aging cheese for a minimum of 60 days before it is sold

According to the ACS’s latest newsletter: “In light of continued scrutiny, and with the goal of helping cheesemakers adhere to the highest standards of cheesemaking, ACS’s Regulatory & Academic Committee is at work compiling Best Practices for Cheesemakers. This document, as well as a related Best Practices for Retailers document, will serve as a resource for the industry to ensure awareness of current regulations and requirements, and to provide tools that can be implemented to meet those requirements.”