Think everyone loves artisanal cheeses? You may have to remove the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from that list. Since 2012, they’ve made it known they’re no fan of some aspects of artisanal cheese making.
The aspects in question are the wooden boards many cheesemakers use to age their cheeses. In 2012, an FDA inspection found Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that could be harmful, on the wooden boards used to age Gouda-style cheese of a New York City cheese company. The FDA found the bacterium again when they inspected in 2013, and ordered the company to halt production. Cheesemakers have been seeking clarity on the use of wooden boards from the FDA since.
Early in 2014, Monica Metz, chief of the dairy and egg branch at the FDA’s Office of Food Safety and Applied Nutrition issued a statement about the use of wooden boards to age cheese, saying the boards don’t conform to established good manufacturing standards because they cannot be “adequately cleaned and sanitized.”
The statement also said, “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. They could be a potential source of pathogenic microorganisms in the finished products.”
This statement was met by concern from cheesemakers across the country, with some even heralding the FDA’s statement as the end of the American artisan cheese industry.
Earlier this month, the FDA attempted to clarify its position on wooden boards by saying Metz’ remarks were in response to questions, and were not an official statement from the FDA. In an update, the FDA reassured cheesemakers they were not out to ruin the artisanal cheese industry.
“To be clear, we have not and are not prohibiting or banning the long-standing practice of using wood shelving in artisanal cheese.”
Harmful bacteria contaminating cheeses is still a concern of the FDA’s but they don’t plan to do anything to end traditional cheese-making practices, nor do they intend to keep cheese off the plates of cheese lovers.