Boy do I know how to have fun; cleaning up the yard after a wind and snowstorm (that carried sub-freezing temperatures), and doing the bi-weekly chicken house cleaning (sorry, no eggs yet). Between those tasks, I have been reading up on the genesis of the 60-day aging of cheese (21 CFR 133 et seq.). I plan on doing a longer piece, yet I still find it odd that the “60 day rule” has been around so long (over ½ a century) without a lot of apparent recent thought to it.

raw-milk-cheeses-590.jpgIn a nutshell, the FDA generally requires that cheese be aged for a minimum of 60 days at a temperature of not less than 35°F made from pasteurized or raw milk. This requirement was put in place because it was believed that such an aging process acted to reduce the level of pathogens present in the cheese, thus making it safer for consumption.

However, apparently, several years ago, researchers at South Dakota State University published a study showing that 60-day aging was largely ineffectual in reducing levels of E. coli O157:H7 in certain cheese. Since then, research by Dr. Joseph Schlesser of the National Center for Food Science and Technology in Summit-Argo, Illinois, also has supported the finding that 60-day aging is largely ineffectual as a means of reducing levels of certain pathogens in cheeses.

So, FDA, why does it take several years, and the recent E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in Gouda cheese, to start a real dialogue on the “60-day rule?’

  • Bill Anderson

    OK Bill, this is where you need to question what you read.
    The study you are talking about was very biased in its designed. It involved the use of pasteurized mik (not raw milk) innoculated with pathogens, in order simulate (the researcher’s pre-disposition) that all raw milk contains pathogens.
    The cheese was cryo-vaced (aged under a vacuum seal) and put into near-freezing temperatures in a walk-in cooler.
    This is not an accurate representation of how most raw milk cheese is made, at all. Here’s where it helps to understand food science, and not just food law.
    If you age cheese at ~38F, it is going to dramatically slow down the aging process, the development of secondary ripening and competative cultures, and consequently the death curves of potential pathogenic organisms in the cheese
    You are right about the 60 day rule, it is totally antiquated. It was based on the production of cheddar and swiss, which is how most cheese was made in America 50 years ago. It is not only antiquated, it is arbitrary. It is entirely possible to make safe raw milk cheese that is hours old, and conversely it is possible to make cheese that will be unsafe no matter how long it is aged.
    There are a variety of factors that influence the safety of raw milk cheese — the quality of the raw milk is huge. Also, the vitality of the starter culture is important — in other words its bio-diversity, as I was discussing recently on David Gumpert’s blog, most modern cheese starters are monocultures and lack the ability to exclude undesirable organisms, in comparison to traditional starter cultures which are full of vitality and bio-diversity and thus more effective in excluding pathogens.
    The conditions under which the cheese is aged are very important, as well. Is it aerobic or anaerobic?
    What is the pH, moisture, and salt content of the cheese? What was the pH curve of the cheese during production?
    I’m sure your logical response to this debate is going to be “let’s extend the aging requirement to 90 days”, but this would be foolish.
    Requiring more paperwork would be foolish as well. Both of these things would only serve to drive more small producers out of business — ever the goal of the corporately beholden FDA.
    Using common sense would help. I don’t think there is an over-arching solution, as each cheese is unique and each producer’s circumstances unique. It would be better to let local health authorities and producers sort this issue out than just giving more power to the FDA.

  • Bix

    Thanks for the nutshell. I was wondering about the 60-day rule.

  • Billy, biased? My goodness, you may well be the most biased human I have ever not met. Frankly, I do not care if cheese should be aged for 2 days or 200. I am interested only in less people being poisoned by food products. There is a lot more research (all that I expect you to believe is biased) out there that supports the failure of the rule to kill pathogens. I am looking for a solution to the problem.

  • Bill Anderson

    Bill, the solution is simple.
    Stop listening to the FDA and germophobic sterile food fascists. They do not know how to produce safe raw milk or safe raw milk cheese and other products from raw milk. Their goal is to make pasteurization compulsary, a solution which is not acceptable to both public opinion and to nature & human health. Their trajectory will continue increasing the health risk of ALL milk (raw or pasteurized) because they fight against nature instead of working with nature.
    The way to make safe raw milk is to follow the natural way.
    Start with hertige cows that produce less milk of a higher quality. Avoid modern dairy breeds which are bred only for volume of milk and are high-maintenance (require lots of grain, antibiotics, and veterinary work). Maintain a closed herd. If any animal is brought in from off-farm, make sure it is from a similar type of farm, and that it is tested for disease.
    Do not push for higher production by feeding heavy amounts of grain or injecting the cows with growth hormones. Modern confinement dairying (CAFOs) and the “TMR” feeds used in conventional and even some industrial-“organic” dairy production will only guarantee unsafe and unhealthy raw milk.
    Cows must be on fresh green pasture as much as possible. Pasture should be diverse and nutrient dense, meaning the soil must be fertile and well-mineralized. The cows should live within a complete holistic farm eco-system. Trees bring up nutrients from deeper in the soil, that are not available to the relatively shallow roots of grasses. Trees also provide shade for the cows, windblock for the cows and grasses, and potentially an additional source of food for humans. Other animals like birds, pigs, and bees also play important ecological roles in the total farm system.
    In the milk itself, maintaining the dominance of lactobacillus and other beneficial organisms in the milk keeps pathogens away. The terrain is more important than the organism.
    Obviously, simple things are important, such as good milking practice, hygienic milk handling facilities, proper cleaning of milking systems, and routine testing of the milk. BUT THEY ARE NOT INDICATORS OF SAFE RAW MILK.
    Few dairies make a point of preventing chlorine (or other chemical) sanitizers from contaminating the milk — chemicals which promote the growth of organisms like listeria. While sanitizing the milk pipeline and bulk tank is important, of equal importance is removing the residual sanitizer with whey, buttermilk, vinegar, or even just the first bit of milk that goes through it.
    Again, the terrain is more important than the organism. Though allowing small amounts of chlorine to contamine the milk will lower your bacteria counts, it will upset the bacterial eco-system within the milk, which could potentially lead to the growth of bad organisms.

  • Curious George

    Sounds like quite the labor-intensive, land-consuming, and costly endeavor. Under this method, how much will a gallon of milk cost? Do you think this is reasonable for most people, or is this only for the elite, wealthy class?
    I find it amusing that you believe Bill Marler is a fascist.

  • Bill Anderson

    It does not take much land to do this. I know farmers that produce milk, meat (beef, pork, and chicken), eggs, vegetables, honey, and fruits & nuts (from trees) all on a relatively small amount of land. It is a far more productive agricultural system per acre than conventional industrial agriculture. AND it is far better for the enviroment, and for human and animal health, than corporate agriculture.
    Yes, dairy farming is a lot of hard work, no matter how you do it. Even the huge CAFOs producing massive quantities of poor quality artificial-hormone-laced milk for pasteurization are very labor intensive. They just hire undocument Mexican workers at a fraction of the cost to do the hard labor for them. Thank you NAFTA, WTO, and IMF for that (sarcasm…)
    The FDA and dairy processing cartels are fascist — the merger of state and corporate power. Their own actions prove this. They must use armed thugs to maintain their monopolistic stranglehold on the food system, rather than more democratic means.
    Bill Marler, it would appear, is just a sympathizer with these fascists. Perhaps he can prove otherwise by moving outside the narrow confines of the germ theory paradigm (currently accepted by the government and industrial agribusiness giants, because it does not threaten to substantially undermine the basis of their power) and expand his work to include the elimination of GMOs and other unsafe bio-tech phoods from the market, among other things.

  • Come on and stop the Nazi sympathizer bullshit. I go after peope who poison people. 99% of those have been big business. It has only been raw milk farmers, who frankly did not give a shit about their customers, that I have sued that have been small businesses.
    Re GMOs – as I said before to you, in order to file suit you need to be able to prove causation. GMOs, THUS FAR have not been shown to have adverse health impacts. As your comment on FSN points out, there is a belief that it may cause problems, but it is not known yet. The law is not perfect at predicting the future. Look at how long Asbestos took to have legal redress and it still is on the market in other ways – Tobacco too. Obesity litigation got shut down early due to legislative anti-lawsuit moves. Think where we would be with high fructose corn syrup if that would not have happened?

  • fred b

    Wow… and all I wanted to know was if raw milk cheese was safe. Who knew it would turn into an ideological face-off?
    Thanks, Bill, for the update. I’ll stay tuned to see how many more studies turn up, on either side of the argument.

  • Bill Anderson

    I didn’t say Nazi, I said fascist — the merger of state and corporate power.
    That is the way the our food regulatory system works in America, particularily in the dairy industry. And it has more to do than just with raw milk. The way that dairy products are priced, the way the industry is structured, etc… is all about merging state and corporate power.

  • Curious George

    Fascism is a little more complicated than simply the “merger of state and corporate power.” It would be like calling you an Anarchist because of your distrust and opposition to the government, or a Marxist because of your views against corporations.
    You seem like the type of person that would stand on a street corner calling Obama a Socialist.

  • L.E. Petesron

    I’ve found that a good majority of the folks who throw around words like “fascist”, “socialist” and “commie” have no real understanding of what fascism, socialism and communism entail. The food regulatory system is not fascist. The government is not trying to take over the food system “in the national interest” and I doubt the people of this country will let them. However, I may be seriously underestimating the apathy of some of my countrymen. Oh, but wait, I’m a food regulator so that means I’m a fascist and nothing I say holds any weight (note heavy sarcasm here).

    –see link

    I really wish more people would educate themselves rather than listening to folks like Beck, Limbaugh and Levine all day.