Doering: Label raw milk cheese

Ronald L. Doering, BA, LL.B. MA, LL.D., a past president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and now counsel in the Ottawa offices of Gowling WLG, writes in his Food in Canada column that the science keeps piling up.

ron.doeringIt is not safe to consume raw milk and its products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced studies that show again that pathogens from raw milk including tuberculosis, diphtheria, typhoid, Salmonella, Listeria, and many other bacterial infections make it unsafe for human consumption. A comprehensive study was released last month by Belgian authorities that concluded that “raw milk poses a realistic health threat due to possible contamination with human pathogens.” Interestingly, the same study found that there was “no substantial change in the nutritional value of raw milk or other benefits associated with raw milk consumption,” but that’s a story for another day. And, of course, the unfortunate proof keeps coming, with hundreds of outbreaks, many deaths and thousands of illnesses just in the last few years due to raw milk and raw milk cheese.

Just because raw milk and raw milk cheese are not as safe as if they were pasteurized doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be banned. That is why regulations around the world are so inconsistent. The sale of raw milk is illegal in Scotland, but legal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (indeed our future king will drink nothing else, a fact that could be used by both sides of the debate!). South of the border the states are roughly evenly divided, but interstate commerce is banned. Raw milk and most raw milk cheeses are banned in Australia but legal in New Zealand. In Canada, the sale of raw milk directly to consumers is prohibited by a variety of provincial provisions and it is a federal crime to sell unpasteurized milk under B.08.002.2(1) of the Food and Drug Regulations.

Canada continues to allow the sale of raw milk cheeses aged over 60 days, but provides this clear warning: “Health Canada’s ongoing advice to pregnant women, children, older adults and people with a weakened immune system is to avoid eating cheese made from raw milk as it does present a higher risk of foodborne illness than pasteurized milk cheeses. If consumers are unsure whether a cheese is made from pasteurized milk, they should check the label or ask the retailer.”

raw-milk-cheeseWhen I first wrote about this issue three years ago I pointed out the regulatory absurdity of the last sentence in the Health Canada (HC) warning. There is no requirement to label and most retailers have no idea if the cheese is made from raw milk, and have no means to determine if it is. At the time I received an informal response to my article from a senior official advising me that before moving to mandatory labelling, HC was going to partner with FDA to do a risk assessment of raw milk cheese, focusing specifically on the risk of illness from Listeria monocytogenes. The results of this risk assessment were released last summer: “The risk of listeriosis from the consumption of soft-ripened cheese made from raw milk is substantially larger than that for consumption of soft-ripened cheese made from pasteurized milk and the 60-day aging regulation actually increases the risk of listeriosis for consumption of raw milk cheeses.” The risk was found to be from 50 to 160 times greater. This resulted in HC issuing a Voluntary Guidance to manufacturers that included suggestions to industry to do regular testing of both the raw milk and the cheese and that “Manufacturers should consider labelling their products with the words ‘made from raw or unpasteurized milk’ on the front panel display and/or in the list of the ingredients.”

The Guidance document seeks feedback from stakeholders before developing new “policy and/or regulatory options.” Here’s mine, again: stop the bureaucratic dithering and do what the Americans, Brits and Europeans have already done – make it mandatory for all manufacturers to label their raw milk cheeses. It’s useless, as they say, to try to reason someone out of something they didn’t reason themselves into, so if we can’t stop people from consuming raw milk and its products, then let’s at least ensure that it is not consumed unknowingly particularly by children, the elderly or expectant mothers. HC now requires unpasteurized juice to be labelled. Who’s against mandatory labelling of raw milk cheese?

Salmonella cases spike: California health types warn against illegally made Mexican-style cheese 

California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith today warned the public about the danger of consuming illegally manufactured Mexican-style soft cheeses, often sold by street vendors. 

quesofresco-complete“These cheeses are often made with raw, unpasteurized milk and under unsanitary conditions,” said Dr. Smith. “We are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of reported Salmonella cases, particularly in the Hispanic community.” 

Since November 2015, at least 50 patients have been infected with three different strains of Salmonella. No deaths have been reported, but hospitalization has been required in several cases. The investigation into these cases is ongoing, but several patients have reported consuming potentially unpasteurized Mexican-style cheese purchased from street vendors before they became ill. 

Love of goats is the secret to award winning cheese, NZ farmers say

Australians make fun of New Zealanders and their sheep.

goat.cheese.nzGoat love provides a whole new canvas.

Love is the secret ingredient for John and Jeanne van Kuyk​, who own Aroha Organic Goat Cheese and took home the Milk Test NZ champion cheesemaker award at the New Zealand Champions of Cheese Awards on March 1.

They also took home the 180 degrees champion goat cheese award for the second year in a row for their Aroha Raw Milk Jubilee which achieved a rare score of 100.

“We care so much about the girls and what we do. We know every single one,” Jeanne van Kuyk said.

“We’ve always loved goats. The love for goats has brought it all on.”

It’s the girls that make the cheese so good, she said.

7 sickened, 1 death in 2014 Listeria outbreak; cheese plant fined $100k

A federal judge has ordered a Delaware cheese company that was the source of a listeria outbreak in 2014 to pay a $100,000 fine.

roos-foods-logo-300x187The judge issued the sentence Thursday after Roos Foods Inc. pleaded guilty in January to a misdemeanor criminal charge. The company also agreed to a permanent injunction prohibiting it from distributing any food products unless it proves compliance with federal food safety laws.

Court records show that federal investigators found significant sanitation problems at Roos Foods after a listeria outbreak killed one person in California and sickened seven others in the Maryland suburbs of Washington.

The Kenton-based company ceased operations in 2014 after the Food and Drug Administration suspended its food facility registration. It has not reopened.

Blessed are the cheesemakers, as lawmakers, question FDA standards for raw milk cheese

Many of Wisconsin’s federal lawmakers signed a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration questioning recently finalized standards limiting the level of non-toxigenic E. coli allowed in raw milk cheese.

cheesemakersThese lawmakers and some producers are worried about how the stricter standard could affect cheese production.

Non-toxigenic E. coli is not a bacteria that causes illness but it’s measured to test the overall cleanliness of cheese.

Before a 2009 rewrite of the regulations, the FDA allowed up to 10,000 colony-forming units per gram. But now they’ll take disciplinary action if a product contains over 10 units of the bacteria in three out of five samples.

Licensed cheesemaker Marieke Penterman makes gouda from raw milk. She said unpasteurized cheese has to age longer to meet those standards.

“That’s going to have a tremendous (economic) impact for a lot of smaller cheese creameries like us that cannot afford to have so much cheese, aging cheese in our inventory,” she said.

If it’s not Scottish, it’s crap; if it is Scottish cheese, it might contain Listeria

After further investigation, CFIA has expanded a recall announcement for Inverloch cheeses that have been imported and distributed across Canada.

Glen Echo Fine Foods is recalling Inverloch cheeses imported from Scotland from the marketplace due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination. Consumers should not consume and distributors, retailers and food service establishments should not sell or use the recalled products described below.

The recalled products may have been sold in smaller packages, cut and wrapped by some retailers. Consumers who are unsure if they have purchased the affected products are advised to contact their retailer.

The great Canadian cheese heist

My favorite Breaking Bad episode centers around a train heist. Spoiler alert: Walt, Jesse and company acquire methylamine by stopping a train in the desert and replacing the crystal meth precursor with water.

The theft nets them $15 million in chemicals.

A bit more than what three Ontario (that’s in Canada) criminals got when they stole a truck containing over 30,000 lbs of cheese, according to The Star.5x5_Dead_Freight_(02)

According to police, the suspects allegedly stole a parked tractor trailer ‘loaded’ with dairy near Hwy 7 and Vaughan Valley Blvd. in Brampton around 1:40 a.m.

They then managed to make it to the area of Hwy 7 and Hwy 427 in Vaughan before crashing the truck and taking off on foot. One of the suspects was later arrested driving another car and the other two were located trying to hail a taxi.

Police followed the truck using an installed GPS system and a canine unit was brought in to track down the suspects.

Although unsure of the exact amount, “there might’ve been between 30,000 and 36,000 pounds of cheese in the truck,” said Const. Andy Pattenden. “The truck was fully-loaded.”

He also noted that police have ‘no idea’ if the thieves were specifically targeting the cheese or not.

Maybe there’s a black market for cheese in Ontario.

On-line cheese presents risk

Online shopping saves time and provides an enormous product choice, but when buying cheeses, this may lead to a quality compromise, according to a new study from Vetmeduni Vienna.

3294_Cheese shutterstock_117291487According to a German market study, six per cent of all fresh foods sold today are purchased online – and this rate is on the rise. For perishable foods, however, it is necessary to follow certain hygienic rules.

Dagmar Schoder from the Institute of Milk Hygiene at the Vetmeduni Vienna was interested above all in one especially high-risk food – raw milk cheese. Raw milk cheeses are made from unpasteurised milk, which puts them at a higher risk of microbiological contamination.

Ms Schoder and her colleagues ordered 108 different raw milk cheeses from 21 online retailers in seven European countries (France, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Belgium).

“We chose raw milk cheese because it is a high-risk product. As raw milk is unpasteurised, it can be easily contaminated with harmful bacteria.

“Even a small amount of bacteria, for which raw milk cheese offers ideal growing conditions, can reach critical proportions after a longer ripening, storage and transport time.

“The product is then no longer edible and may even make consumers ill. For this reason, special care must be taken during production, storage and transport,” said Ms Schoder.

The researchers found Listeria monocytogenes in two cheese products: one from France and one from the Netherlands.

The fecal bacteria Escherichia coli was found in 32 products. It indicates poor conditions of hygiene during production. Salmonella were not found in any of the cheese samples.

“Some of the producers apparently have shortcomings in terms of hygiene,” said first author Ms Schoder. “Furthermore, when making online purchases, I recommend consumers to check if a product is adequately packaged and cooled when it arrives.”

The shipping period of the online products was between one and five days.

“Cheese must be cooled,” Ms Schoder stressed. But this was not the case with 61.5 per cent of the raw milk products purchased.

“If raw milk cheese is not cooled, bacteria will grow more quickly. A longer transport journey and improper packaging increase the risk for consumers.”

Only 19 cheeses fulfilled the EU labelling requirements (Directive 2000/13/EC and Regulation 853/2004). Of the cheeses purchased, 37 were not labelled as “raw milk cheese” and 43 labels had no “use by date”. Information on storage requirements was missing in more than half of the cheeses.

 

Shiga toxin producing E. coli in raw milk cheese in Ireland

Corleggy Cheeses is recalling all batches of its raw milk cheeses due to the detection of verocytotoxigenic Escherichia coli (VTEC) in two batches of its cow’s milk cheese.  The cheeses are supplied to some restaurants and retail shops.  They are also sold directly at food markets.  Consumers are advised not to eat the affected cheeses.

Corleggy CheesesVTEC may cause severe bloody diarrhoea and abdominal cramps, although sometimes the infection causes non-bloody diarrhoea or no symptoms. In some groups, particularly children under 5 years of age and the elderly, the infection can also cause a complication called haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) in which the kidneys fail.

 

Salmonella in French cheeses prompts recall in Netherlands

It’s been a bad week for French cheeses.

imagesHong Kong’s Centre for Food Safety (CFS) expanded on its earlier recall for Listeria in raw-milk cheeses from France, and now the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority has recalled French cheese of the brand Le Petit Fiance des Pyrenees because of Salmonella.

The NVWA urgently warns people who have bought this brand of cheese with the expiration date 02-06-2015 to not consume the cheese and report it to the store where it was purchased. If you have already eaten the cheese and are feeling sick, contact your doctor as soon as possible.