Should have been done initially: FDA issues clarification on using wood shelving in artisanal cheesemaking

Recently, you may have heard some concerns suggesting the FDA has taken steps to end the long-standing practice in the cheesemaking industry of using wooden boards to age cheese. To be clear, we have not and are not prohibiting or banning the long-standing practice of using wood shelving in artisanal cheese. Nor does the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) require any such action. Reports to the contrary are not accurate. 

cheese.wood.boardThe agency’s regulations do not specifically address the use of shelving made of wood in cheesemaking, 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. 

At issue is a January 2014 communication from the agency’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets’ Division of Milk Control and Dairy Services, which was sent in response to questions from New York State.  

The FDA recognizes that this communication has prompted concerns in the artisanal cheesemaking community. The communication was not intended as an official policy statement, but was provided as background information on the use of wooden shelving for aging cheeses and as an analysis of related scientific publications. Further, we recognize that the language used in this communication may have appeared more definitive than it should have, in light of the agency’s actual practices on this issue.  

The FDA has taken enforcement action in some situations where we have found the presence of Listeria monocytogenes at facilities that used such shelving. Since 2010, FDA inspections have found Listeria monocytogenes in more than 20 percent of inspections of artisanal cheesemakers. However, the FDA does not have data that directly associates these instances of contamination with the use of wood shelving. 

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 these concerns have been noted in its inspectional findings. However, the FDA will engage with the artisanal cheesemaking community, state officials and others to learn more about current practices and discuss the safety of aging certain types of cheeses on wooden shelving, as well as to invite stakeholders to share any data or evidence they have gathered related to safety and the use of wood surfaces. We welcome this open dialogue.

Why assume conspiracy when stupidity works? Keep your government hands off my cheese

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has, apparently, started to enforce a rule  after the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition issued citations to several New York State cheesemakers for the use of wood shelves, which prompted an inquiry from the state government, which allows the practice.

cheese.wood.boardIn response, the FDA clarified its position, saying that the use of wood shelves violates a provision of its Current Good Manufacturing Practice regulations that requires “all plant equipment…to be adequately cleanable.” The agency is applying this interpretation to all imports as well — an important aspect, since the majority of cheeses imported from Europe are aged on wood.

With the Intertubes that discussion has, within 24 hours, turned conspiratorial.
“A sense of disbelief and distress is quickly rippling through the U.S. artisan cheese community,” according to the Wisconsin blog Cheese Underground.

Naturally, conservatives and libertarians see this move as yet another assault on liberty by the Obama administration. It’s not. It’s a dumb mistake by the F.D.A., not a metaphor for overreach that implies the government should also stop regulating coal emissions and health insurance policies

This afternoon, responding to the uproar in the cheese world, FDA. issued a statement saying it was willing to work with artisanal cheese makers to determine if some cheeses could be safely made on wooden boards. The agency is “always open to evidence that shows that wood can be safely used for specific purposes, such as aging cheese,” the statement said, according to the Associated Press.

Any government agency needs to clearly and effectively communicate risk-based decisions, and provide the evidence to back a particular decision.

Otherwise, a risk information vacuum is created, and others will rush in to fill that space.

Best and safest food in the world: UK cheese edition

China has banned imports of British cheese after the country’s food inspectors were dissatisfied with standards at a UK dairy.

Chinese officials, visiting plants in Europe ahead of the country’s new food safety law coming into force on May 1, reportedly complained about maintenance, raw milk transport temperatures, chemical storage and air sanitization, insisting that all UK dairies exporting cheese to China must now pass council inspections before the restriction is lifted.

However, it has emerged that the unnamed dairy visited does not even supply cheese to the country.

George Eustice, UK farming minister, said: “British cheese is the best in the world and produced to the highest safety and quality standards so it is disappointing that China have put a temporary block on cheese imports.”

Multistate outbreak of listeriosis linked to soft-ripened cheese — United States, 2013

On June 27, 2013, the Minnesota Department of Health notified CDC of two patients with invasive Listeria monocytogenes infections (listeriosis) whose clinical isolates had indistinguishable pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) patterns. A query of PulseNet, the national molecular subtyping network for foodborne disease surveillance, identified clinical and environmental isolates from other states. On June 28, CDC learned from the Food and Drug Administration’s Coordinated Outbreak crave.brothers.cheeseResponse and Evaluation Network that environmental isolates indistinguishable from those of the two patients had been collected from Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese during 2010–2011. An outbreak-related case was defined as isolation of L. monocytogenes with the outbreak PFGE pattern from an anatomic site that is normally sterile (e.g., blood or cerebrospinal fluid), or from a product of conception, with an isolate upload date during May 20–June 28, 2013. As of June 28, five cases were identified in four states (Minnesota, two cases; Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, one each). Median age of the five patients was 58 years (range: 31–67 years). Four patients were female, including one who was pregnant at the time of infection. All five were hospitalized. One death and one miscarriage were reported.

Case–case analysis of Listeria Initiative* data (1) was conducted, comparing food exposure frequencies among the five outbreak-related cases identified by June 28 with food exposure frequencies in 1,735 sporadic listeriosis cases reported to CDC during 2004–2013. The analysis indicated that any soft cheese consumption during the month before illness onset was associated with outbreak-related listeriosis: five of five (100%) in the outbreak-related cases versus 569 of 1,735 (33%) in the sporadic cases (odds ratio = 10.8; 95% confidence interval = 1.8–∞).

The five patients were reinterviewed to assess their cheese exposures. All five patients had definitely or probably eaten one of three varieties of Crave Brothers soft-ripened cheese (Les Frères, Petit Frère, or Petit Frère with truffles). Three patients had purchased the cheese at three different restaurants, and two had purchased the cheese at two different grocery stores. The cheeses were shipped as intact wheels to the three restaurants and two grocery stores, where they had been cut and served or repackaged and sold to customers.

Testing at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture identified the outbreak pattern of L. monocytogenes in two cheese wedges (Les Frères and Petit Frère with truffles) collected from two different grocery stores in Minnesota. Inspection of the cheese-making facility revealed that substantial sanitation deficiencies during the cheese-making process itself, after the milk was pasteurized, likely led to contamination. On July 1, Crave Brothers halted production of Les Frères, Petit Frère, and Petit Frère with truffles. On July 3, Crave Brothers issued a voluntary recall of these products with a production date of July 1, 2013, or earlier. On July 11, the company voluntarily halted production of all cheese products manufactured at the facility. After product recall, one additional case was identified in Texas through whole genome sequencing, bringing the total case count for the outbreak to six.

This outbreak was linked to soft cheeses that were likely contaminated during the cheese-making process (2,3). Pasteurization eliminates Listeria in milk. However, contamination can occur after pasteurization. Cheese-making facilities should use strict sanitation and microbiologic monitoring, regardless of whether they use pasteurized milk.†

Persons at greater risk for listeriosis, including older adults, pregnant women, and those with immunocompromising conditions, should be aware that certain soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk, or made under unsanitary conditions, regardless of whether the milk was pasteurized, have been shown to cause severe illness. These soft cheeses include fresh (unripened) cheeses, such as queso fresco (4), and soft-ripened cheeses, such as the cheeses implicated in this outbreak.

Mary J. Choi, Kelly A. Jackson, Carlota Medus,  Jennifer Beal, Carrie E. Rigdon, Tami C. Cloyd, Matthew J. Forstner, Jill Ball, Stacy Bosch, Lyndsay Bottichio, Venessa Cantu, David C. Melka, Wilete Ishow, Sarah Slette, Kari Irvin, Matthew Wise, Cheryl Tarr, Barbara Mahon, Kirk E. Smith, Benjamin J. Silk

7 sickened, 1 dead: why Delaware didn’t inspect cheese plant that caused Listeria outbreak

Delaware’s decision not to inspect cheese producers like Roos Foods in Kenton allowed the plant’s cheese operation to run with infrequent oversight before it was shut down in the wake of a deadly listeria infection outbreak.

Jeff Montgomery of Delaware online writes that unlike Maryland and other states, Delaware never sought expanded food safety inspection powers that would have led to state inspectors regularly checking the roos-foods-logo-300x187Roos cheese plant for safe and healthy operation. Instead, state rules kept blinders on local inspectors who made quarterly sanitation and compliance checks in a separate section where sour cream was produced in the same plant building that sent cheese to 10 eastern states as well as Texas and California.

The split oversight sheltered Roos Foods’ deteriorating cheese plant from more-frequent inspections, with federal inspectors visiting only three times in five years. The last regular federal inspection, in June 2013, turned up pooled water, sanitation failures and other problems.

The issue came to light earlier this month, when the Food and Drug Administration suspended Roos Foods’ approval to sell its products after one person died and seven others were sicked by listeria in cheese from Kenton. 

Groundhog Day: UK cheese destroyed due to E. coli risk

In 1996, 23 people died in an E. coli O157 outbreak when Scotland’s former butcher-of-the-year used the same knives on raw and cooked beef.

In 2005, a five-year-old child died and 160 were sickened after a butcher used the same vacuum packaging machine on raw and cooked beef.

Celebrity chef Marcus Wareing, who cooked for the Queen on her 80th birthday and is star of BBC’s Great British Menu series, failed his most recent restaurant inspection bill.murray.groundhog.daybecause he used the same vac-pak machine on raw and cooked product.

Now, according to the Cheddar Valley Gazette, cheese from  Bridgwater Butchers has been seized and destroyed as a result of a routine food hygiene inspection carried out by Sedgemoor District Council Environmental Health staff on January 15.

Environmental health staff discovered that cheese from A I Foster’s, in St Marys Street, Bridgwater was being vacuum-packed on the same equipment as raw meat before being displayed for sale.

Due to the risk of the cheese being contaminated with E. coli O157 the cheese was seized.

An application was made to Taunton Magistrates Court by Sedgemoor’s Legal team for a condemnation order.

In addition to the costs of destroying the cheese the Council were also awarded full costs claimed of over £600.

The Food Standards Agency stress that: “Under no circumstances should it be considered safe to use the same complex equipment, such as vacuum packing machines, slicers, mincers, etc, for both raw and ready-to-eat foods.”

Rules need enforcement.

Listeria in cheese sparks Australian recall

Because of contamination with Listeria monocytogenes, certain Tasmanian-produced cheeses are being recalled in several Australian states.

The Emporium Selection Pepper Cheese has been available for sale at Aldi Stores in Victoria, Queensland, NSW and the ACT.

The Ashgrove Tasmanian Farm Cheese products have been available for sale at independent supermarkets in Victoria and Tasmania only.

Ashgrove Tasmanian Farm Cheese – Wine Lovers 250g
Best Before 7/7/14 and 23/6/14

Ashgrove Tasmanian Farm Cheese 150g – Picnic Pack
Best Before 23/6/14

Ashgrove Tasmanian Farm Bush Pepper Cheese 50g -
Best Before 30/6/14

Emporium Selection Pepper Cheese 170g
Best Before 14/7/14 and 3/8/14


Third Listeria death linked to Australian cheese company

A third person has died following a listeria outbreak linked to soft cheeses produced in the Australian state of Victoria.

Victoria’s acting chief health officer, Dr Michael Ackland, has confirmed the death of a 68-year-old New South Wales man in late January was linked to the listeria contamination of Jindi cheese products.

An 84-year-old Victorian man and a 44-year-old Tasmanian man have also died of listeria infection. A pregnant NSW woman miscarried. More than 20 listeriaother cases have been reported.

Jindi has voluntarily recalled all batches of cheese manufactured up to January 6.

The Newcastle Herald cited Dr Ackland as saying the outbreak, which has been traced to the company’s factory in Gippsland, was the largest the nation had suffered and one of the most complex. He described the process of tracking the outbreak to Jindi as ”an important piece of investigative work”, which involved obtaining food histories from victims and intelligence from OzFoodNet, the federal food diseases surveillance unit, as well as bacterial DNA tests to determine the strain of listeria.

On January 7, Jindi’s French-owned parent company, Lactalis – which bought the gourmet cheese maker from Menora Foods in November for an estimated $20 million – voluntarily committed to a quality assurance program jindi.cheese.listeria.13that ”significantly cranks up” its existing food safety standards and has satisfied Victoria’s chief health officer.

Jindi’s chief executive, Franck Beaurain, has not returned telephone calls from Fairfax Media for more than a week.

2 deaths, 1 miscarriage among 21 now sick from Listeria linked to Jindi cheese in Australia

Three more Australians have been stricken with listeriosis after eating soft cheese, bringing the total number of people affected nationwide to 21.

Two Australians have died and a pregnant woman has miscarried listeriafollowing the outbreak.

The people ate cheese produced by the Jindi Cheese Company that has since been recalled.

Jindi has voluntarily recalled all batches of cheese manufactured up to and including January 6.

NSW Health acting director of health protection Professor Wayne Smith said all of the recent cases involved people aged over 65 with one person in a serious condition.

Consumers can call the Jindi helpline on 1800 680 175 for more information on the recalled cheeses.