FDA Backs Down After Cheese-Heads Fight Back

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Cheese is the most glorious product to come out of a cow -- or sheep, or goat -- since the beginning of time.

Yeah, milk is good. Yogurt is a nice way to start the day. And we all scream for ice cream, obviously.

But there's just something about the coagulated cream that just gets us all excited on the inside.

As much as we all adore queso of all shapes, sizes, colors, and animal milks, the cheese world was up in arm earlier this week after the FDA threatened to infringe upon certain processes for curing artisanal cheeses.

See Also: Green Bar & Kitchen Now Serving Gluten-Free, Nut-Free Vegan Ice Cream

The fight came about after the FDA decreed that the traditional wooden boards that are used to make many of the world's craft cheeses are not up to code with modern health and safety regulations.

After citing numerous code violations the agency issued this statement:

"The porous structure of wood enables it to absorb and retain bacteria, therefore bacteria generally colonize not only the surface but also the inside layers of wood. The shelves or boards used for aging make direct contact with finished products; hence they could be a potential source of pathogenic microorganisms in the finished products."

The reason wood came under attack is fear of Listeriosis, "a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes", according to the CDC. It's prevented by properly preparing foods, which is why the agency is concerned with wooden boards and the bacteria found in its pores.

No matter that the process has been used successfully for hundreds of years.

Fortunately, for cheese-makers and cheese-lovers, the agency backed down from its earlier statements indicating it would crack down on the centuries old practice.

Unfortunately, it did so without owning up to its earlier assertions -- apparently the public love of fromage is bigger than the interests of the processed food industry.

The organization explained it's clarification of its actual policy yesterday:

"The FDA does not have a new policy banning the use of wooden shelves in cheese-making, 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.

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 has noted these concerns in inspectional findings. FDA is always open to evidence that shows that wood can be safely used for specific purposes, such as aging cheese.

The FDA will engage with the artisanal cheese-making community to determine whether certain types of cheeses can safely be made by aging them on wooden shelving."

Our beloved cheese are safe for now; however, there's no telling whether the issue will come up again. None of the federal government's agencies are known for being kind to artisanal dairy (or any non-industrial food) producers, period.

While a wide portion of the American population is working toward getting back to artisanal and craft products -- from beer to locally grown produce to raw milk -- in an attempt to get away from processed food (and the chemicals and crap that goes with them), our governmental agencies seem to be in the pockets of companies' like Kraft, Leprino Foods, and whoever else.

Stay tuned for more political food fight updates.

See Also: Beer Politics: Florida Senate Moves Craft Beer Bill Through Committee, Adds Restrictions On Beer To-Go

Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.

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