In January, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will launch a pilot program to sample and test domestic and imported raw milk cheese aged at least 60 days for Salmonella, L. monocytogenes, and E. coli O157:H7. On December 19, members of the American Cheese Society (ACS) Regulatory & Academic Committee attended a conference call held by FDA to share information about the program.
This program will test a new microbiological sampling surveillance model, which should help to fill knowledge gaps on the prevalence of microbiological hazards in commodities and increase FDA’s understanding of risks, contamination rates, and mitigation strategies.
Along with raw milk cheese, the pilot program will include domestic and imported sprouts and raw almonds.
Sampling will begin in January 2014 (an exact date has not been provided) and will last for approximately 12 months. Sampling may take place at any point in the supply chain for domestic cheeses, including at the cheesemaking plant. For imported cheeses, sampling will occur at locations where the cheese normally enters the U.S.
With 22 people sick and 1 dead from E. coli O157 linked to raw milk cheese produced by Gort’s Gouda Cheese Farm in Salmon Arm, British Columbia, Canadian media have chosen to focus on the alleged benefits of raw milk cheese.
Citing Michael Pollan as an influence, one writer says“there is magic in traditional methods … It has been known for some time that excessive hygiene can cause more trouble than it prevents.”
Another says my cows are clean so the milk is clean, and another says “Raw milk has all the enzymes still in it and a lot of immunoglobulin in it which helps the immune system of the baby to be developed and it helps the growth factors.”
Magical food, hmmm, where have I heard that before? Oh yeah, that would be when 140 people got sick with Salmonella from sprouts on Jimmy John’s sandwiches beginning in Dec. 2010.
Shouldn’t the focus be on the sick people? And using science to evaluate risk, not magic?
“In light of such a tragedy, it’s easy to panic, and to view cheese made from unpasteurized milk — which is legal to sell in Canada — with a jaundiced eye. Ban it! Bring on irradiation! This sort of fear-based attitude is a mistake.
“Foodborne pathogens exist. They are a fact of life — always have been, always will be. But to blame, or move to eliminate, an entirefood culture, in existence for thousands of years, stimulating both the palate and the economy, would be an overreaction.”
Kevin Allen, a microbiologist at the University of British Columbia and aging hockey player, had some sensible comments, such as, “We can’t keep saying that, historically, there is a 60-day aging period. It’s not necessarily based on E. coli O157, which we didn’t recognize as a foodborne pathogen until 1982. … The longer the cheese is aged, the more inactivation you will have. But it’s hard to put an exact (time) on that. We don’t have the data.”
One solution, says Allen, is to conduct research into how long it takes for a pathogen to be rendered inactive. Or he says you could just pasteurize the milk used in the cheese, a heating process which, properly done, kills pathogens.
Well, that sounds simple enough. Heat the bejezus out of the stuff, and eliminate the worry, the risk, right?
The owner of a cheese shop says, “Anyone working with raw milk products has safety systems and precautions, and a system of vigilance against the proliferation of bad bacteria … and that is regulated at a federal and provincial level.”
And so are the bacteria-seeing goggles.
As usual, the Public Health Agency of Canada provides completely irrelevant information to this outbreak, and wants “to remind Canadians to follow proper hygiene and safe food handling and preparation practices to prevent the spread of all food-borne illness including E. coli. For example:
Wash your hands before and after cooking;
Keep knives, counters and cutting boards clean;
Keep raw meats separate from other foods when you store them; and
My friend and hockey goon Kevin Allen at the University of British Columbia makes some good points about policy after one person died and 16 others were sickened with E. coli O157:H7 via raw milk cheese in Canada.
Dr. Robert Parker, the chief medical officer for the B.C. Interior Health Authority, makes some lousy points about policy and when to go public.
According to CBC, health officials suspected an E. coli outbreak was linked to a B.C. cheese farm as early as last Friday, but waited until Tuesday to warn the public because they had to be certain of the source. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed one person has died and 10 people are ill from consuming raw milk cheese products from B.C. Gort’s Gouda has been linked to an outbreak of E. coli in B.C. and Alberta
Parker says media attention can destroy a business, and authorities wanted to be certain. He says people do not need to stop eating cheese made from raw milk, since there have not been several outbreaks. “I think if we start seeing repeated outbreaks in unpasteurized cheese products, it might be worthwhile to review again,” said Parker.
There have been endless and a disproportionately high number of outbreaks associated with raw milk cheese. Parker should know that.
Publicly available guidelines for when to go public with health information that are consistently followed by health types, would remove many conspiratorial elements.
Edmonton’s Annemarie McCrie ate at Gort’s Farm on Sept. 1 on her way back home from vacation in B.C. with a friend. “We wanted to stop and there’s a little sign that said ‘cheese farm’ – so I thought ‘oh, let’s go to the cheese farm,’ because everybody wants to visit a cheese farm.”
Kevin Allen, a University of British Columbia microbiologist, says this recall highlights the problems associated with consuming raw milk and its products. “Obviously we have a failure here,” says Allen. Allen says currently Canadian law requires raw milk cheese to be aged for 60 days in order to eliminate pathogens and make it safe, but E. coli O157 can survive well past that time and aging is not a guarantee of safety. “The problem is we have a modern-day food chain with modern-day pathogens that seem tolerant to these conditions that we use to render it safe,” says Allen. “I think it’s maybe time to look at our policy and maybe amend it.”
A Calgary cheesemaker whose family has been in the cheese business for roughly 300 years wants to see unpasteurized cheese banned in Canada.
Gouda Cheese with Jalapeno Peppers Quaso de Prato.
Smoked Gouda Cheese Quaso de Prato.
Gouda Cheese with Red Peppers, Ginger, Onions & Garlic Quaso de Prato.
Peppercorn, Ginger, Paprika, Onion & Garlic Quaso de Prato.
Parsley, Celery, Onion, Garlic, Dill & Chives Quaso de Prato.
An alert from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency states the affected products have lot codes 122 to 138 and were sold at the manufacturer’s outlet, at retail stores in Alberta and B.C, and through Internet sales from May 27 to Sept. 14, 2013, inclusive.
Some product packages may not bear a lot code or indicate that the cheese was made with raw milk, and CFIA advises consumers who are unsure if they have purchased the affected product to contact their retailer.
A popular Portland restaurant was investigated this month as a possible source of foodborne illness, the second such investigation of the restaurant in 18 months.
The Portland Press Herald reports health officials zeroed in on Petite Jacqueline after a food handler and a patron were stricken by the same bacterial illness on June 1, but they could not prove the restaurant’s food was the cause – or that it wasn’t – because too much time had passed since the people who became sick were exposed.
Liz Koenigsberg, the restaurant’s part owner and general manager, said the restaurant is fully cooperating with state health inspectors and the Maine Center for Disease Control.
“It has not been concluded by any means that the source of illness was from Petite Jacqueline,” Koenigsberg said. “All of our food-handling practices are safe.”
The French bistro is a popular West End spot that has been nominated for a coveted James Beard Award.
Michael Russell, the manager of Portland’s Environmental Health and Safety program and the certified state health inspector who followed up on the illness complaint, said in an email Wednesday that the restaurant needed to change some of its food-handling practices.
“I observed some risk factors and made recommendations to correct (them),” he said.
Russell’s report said the restaurant should stop selling raw, aged cheese. State law prohibits eating establishments from selling raw, or unpasteurized, cheese unless it has been aged at a temperature of 35 degrees or higher for at least 60 days and is appropriately labeled.
Koenigsberg contends that the restaurant was selling appropriately aged cheese and is still working with health officials to clarify the rules. Russell said the eatery can resume selling the cheese as long as the “raw milk” labels are changed to “non-pasteurized.”
Russell also noted in his report that the restaurant uses the same color cutting boards for both meat and produce, which could result in accidental cross-contamination even though the boards were being sterilized. And he called on the restaurant to cover food items in the refrigerator to protect against contamination.
William Herkewitz of Science Liner writes that in the United States some raw-milk cheeses are as illegal to buy and sell as Cuban cigars or imported ivory. Their crime? They haven’t been shelved for long enough. By federal law, all cheeses aged less than 60 days — usually soft cheeses like mozzarella or brie — have to be pasteurized (heated for sterility) in order to be sold.
The idea is that at 60 days, the fermentation processes taking place within the cheese will have naturally eradicated any harmful bacteria. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently reviewing its restrictions on unpasteurized, raw-milk cheeses, with the intent of elongating this time-period.
“Recent scientific literature has raised doubts about the efficacy of 60-day aging as an alternative to pasteurization,” says Marianna Naum, a policy analyst at the FDA.
Enacted in 1950, the 60-day rule was a compromise between cheese lovers and food safety experts, with the former concerned that pasteurization altered both the flavor and traditional methods of cheese making. But much has changed since 1950.
But recent multi-state fatal food-illnessoutbreaks of even older unpasteurized cheeses have convinced many food scientists that 60 days may simply not be long enough.
Thirteen people have become ill with salmonellosis linked to eating a raw Mexican-style cheese, queso fresco, and state health officials are warning consumers about the risks of consuming unpasteurized dairy products.
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and the City of Minneapolis are investigating the outbreak and the source of the raw milk used to make the cheese.
MDH has confirmed 11 cases of infection with the same strain of Salmonella Typhimurium. Eight were hospitalized. Additional illnesses have been reported in family members of the cases, including two hospitalizations. All have recovered. Many cases reported eating unpasteurized queso fresco purchased or received from an individual who made the product in a private home. Investigators have determined that the individual made home deliveries and also may have sold the product on a street corner near the East Lake Street area of Minneapolis.
Anyone who may have purchased or received this product recently should not eat it but should throw it away.
“While our immediate concern is that there might be additional illnesses associated with consumption of this particular product, we also want to remind people of the inherent risk of consuming any raw dairy product,” said Dr. Carlota Medus, foodborne illness epidemiologist with MDH. “We encourage people to think carefully about those risks before consuming raw dairy products from any source and know that the risks are especially high for young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.”
The new FDA/Health Canada draft risk assessment found that the risk of listeriosis from soft-ripened cheeses made with raw milk is estimated to be 50 to 160 times higher than that from soft-ripened cheese made with pasteurized milk. This finding is consistent with the fact that consuming raw milk and raw milk products generally poses a higher risk from pathogens than do pasteurized milk and its products.
While raw milk and raw milk products put all consumers at risk, the bacteria they may contain can be especially dangerous to people with weakened immune systems, older adults, pregnant women and children.
FDA invites comments that can help FDA and Health Canada improve:
the approach used;
the assumptions made;
the modeling techniques;
the data used; and
the clarity and transparency of the draft quantitative risk assessment documentation.
To submit comments electronically, go to docket FDA-2012-N-1182 on regulations.gov. The comment period opens February 11, 2013 for 75 days.
The Missouri State Milk Board, in conjunction with the Missouri Department of Agriculture and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, announced today that Homestead Creamery of Jamesport, Mo. is voluntarily withdrawing a batch of its Flory’s Favorite cheese from the marketplace.
Preliminary test results received from the Missouri State Health Laboratory indicate the cheese may be contaminated with shiga-toxin producing E. coli, which can lead to food borne illness. Confirmatory tests are ongoing.
The Homestead Creamery plant license to sell milk products in Missouri has been temporarily suspended, pending the results of the investigation by the State Milk Board and Missouri departments of Agriculture and Health and Senior Services.
The withdrawn product, Flory’s Favorite, is a 60-day aged cheese made with raw milk. Packages of the cheese are marked with “Packed On 210″ on the label. This affects approximately 250 pounds of cheese and does not affect any other dairy products from Homestead Creamery.
The withdrawn cheese was sold at Homestead Creamery facility in Jamesport, Mo. and may have been sold by the following retailers:
HyVee in Liberty, Mo. HyVee in Trenton, Mo. Benedict Builders’ Farm in Knob Noster, Mo. Milton Creamery in Milton, Iowa.
The Missouri State Milk Board continues to review the company’s records to determine when consumers may have purchased the product. Anyone who has purchased the cheese may return the unused portion to the store from which they purchased the product.
Copies of Missouri’s regulations for milk products, including cheese, are available online atmda.mo.gov/animals/milk.