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The Raw Milk Beat Goes On: A Look at the Literature and the 60-Day Raw Milk Cheese Aging Rule – Part 5

Producing Cheese Safely

Unlike fluid raw milk producers who have been the subject of intense conflict with regulators for many years, artisanal and specialty cheesemakers that use raw milk have maintained a relatively good relationship with state and FDA regulators in the US.   According to their website, the American Cheese Society (ACS) shares resources to help producers adequately prepare for audits and inspections and work collaboratively with state regulators and the FDA.  The recent increase in FDA inspections and Listeria testing of soft cheeses and cheesemaking facilities has no doubt caused tensions between cheesemakers and regulators.  The New York Times reports that FDA inspectors visited 102 facilities beginning in April 2010, including both large and small cheesemakers.  They found Listeria in the facilities of 24 cheesemakers and more than half were small, artisan-scale operations.

While these findings are a cause for concern and have resulted in at least one major recall, fortunately, cheesemaking associations such as the ACS have an infrastructure to address food safety.  For example, the ACS advises their members to:

• take part in ongoing food safety education

• follow a HACCP plan

• regularly conduct their own product and environment testing

• maintain accurate and up-to-date records

• seek third party certification

• build relationships with local regulators

Conclusions

Artisanal raw milk cheeses are distributed around the world and revered by fans for their unique sensory characteristics, as well as the art and tradition of making these cheeses.   Cheeses, especially fresh and soft or semi-soft styles, are susceptible to contamination with pathogens such as Campylobacter, E. coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella.  Countries where raw milk cheeses are popular take different approaches in their regulations.  Experimental and epidemiological evidence suggests that the 60-day aging rule used in the US and Canada is not a fail-safe approach to cheese safety, which has prompted the FDA to re-evaluate the efficacy of the rule and conduct a national survey of cheesemaking facilities. 

There are at least four potential outcomes that may result from FDA’s recent actions:  1) a ban on all cheeses made from raw milk, 2) an extension of the 60-day aging period to 90-days or longer depending on evidence from the literature, 3) adoption of a European-type approach with intense regulation of animal health and hygiene during processing, but no aging rule, or 4) no change in the 60-day aging rule in the US.  

While the future of the 60-day aging rule for cheeses made from raw milk in the US remains to be determined, the openness of cheesemakers to working with state and federal regulatory agencies will hopefully foster a science-based approach to cheese safety that both protects the public’s health and preserves the unique characteristics and tradition of artisanal cheeses.

APPENDIX

Outbreaks, illnesses and recalls linked to cheeses made from raw (unpasteurized) and pasteurized milk, United States, 2010 (through November 2010)

 

Year

 

Month

 

Location

 

Pathogen

 

Number ill

 

Vehicle*

 

Comment

 

Reference

(click on link)

 

 

2010

 

 

Feb

 

 

WA

 

 

Listeria monocytogenes

 

 

5

 

Queso fresco cheese

 

Pasteurized milk used to make the cheese

 

 

FDA

 

2010

 

Feb

 

WA

 

Listeria monocytogenes

 

0

Various raw milk cheeses

60-day aged raw milk cheeses from Montesano plant

 

FDA

 

2010

 

Mar

 

WA

 

Listeria monocytogenes

 

0

 

Tomme raw milk cheese

Expanded recall of 60-day aged raw milk cheeses from Montesano plant

FDA

 

 

 

2010

 

 

 

Apr

 

 

 

WA

 

 

 

Listeria monocytogenes

 

 

 

0

 

Queso fresco cheese

Pasteurized milk used to make the cheese; recall with no illnesses reported

 

 

 

FDA

 

2010

 

May

 

NV

 

Campylobacter

 

1

Illegal Mexican-style cheese

Type of milk used to make the cheese unknown

 

Washoe

2010

May

MN

Shiga toxin-producing E. coli

0

Raw milk cheese

Non-O157 found in dairy’s cheese during raw milk outbreak investigation

 

MDA/MDH

 

2010

 

Jun

 

DE

Brucella and Listeria monocytogenes

 

2

Raw dairy products including cheese

 

Two separate incidents

 

DE DHHS

 

 

 

 

2010

 

 

 

Jul

 

 

 

PA

 

 

 

Staphylococcus aureus

 

 

 

0

Raw milk hard cheddar cheese

60-day aged cheese; recall with no illnesses reported

 

 

PDA

 

 

 

2010

 

 

 

Jul

 

 

 

NY

 

 

 

Listeria monocytogenes

 

 

 

0

 

Queso fresco cheese

Pasteurized milk used to make the cheese; recall with no illnesses reported

 

 

NY AGMKT

 

 

2010

 

 

Aug

 

 

RI

 

 

Listeria monocytogenes

 

 

0

Queso fresco cheese

Pasteurized milk used to make the cheese; recall with no illnesses reported

 

RI DOH

 

 

 

2010

 

Aug

 

Multiple

 

Listeria monocytogenes and Staphylococcus aureus

 

0

 

Raw milk

Cheese

60-day aged raw milk cheese from plant in Missouri; recall with no illnesses

 

MO AG

2010

Sep

WA

Listeria monocytogenes

0

Raw milk cheeses

Expanded recall of 60-day aged raw milk cheeses from Montesano plant

 

FDA

2010

Oct

WA

Listeria monocytogenes

0

Raw milk cheeses

Expanded recall of 60-day aged raw milk cheeses from Montesano plant

US AG

2010

Nov

AZ, CA, CO, NM, NV

 

E. coli O157:H7 and Listeria monocytogenes

 

38

Raw gouda cheese; other cheeses

60-day aged gouda; E. coli outbreak linked to Costco “Cheese Road Show;” recall expanded to all company cheeses on 11/17/10;  no Listeria illnesses reported

 

CDC

 

 

 

2010

 

 

 

Nov

 

 

 

CO

 

 

 

E. coli O157:H7

 

 

 

0

 

 

Gorgonzola cheese

Cheese imported from Italy, made from pasteurized milk; no illnesses reported

 

FDA

2010

Nov

WA

Listeria monocytogenes

0

Fresh (Queso and ricotta) Mexican-style cheeses

Made from pasteurized milk; no illnesses reported (previous recall from same plant in April 2010)

 

FDA

Here is the full article by PDF – “The Raw Milk Beat Goes On: A Look at the Literature and the 60-Day Raw Milk Cheese Aging Rule”

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