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Sep 13, 2008 09:45 AM

Raw milk cheese and other unpasteurized dangers?

I love illegal raw milk cheese, unpasteurized honey, etc. However, being stuck at home for two days with food poisoning (the only symptom requires Immodium - no fever or pain) really sucks. I don't know whether to attribute it to: possibly slightly undercooked fresh gourmet sausage and bacon that I had frozen for a week or two and then thawed in the fridge before cooking; slightly undercooked boiled egg that was slightly past the due date before cooking; 2-day old stir fry that contained large from-frozen shrimps; a latte from Second Cup that took me an hour to drink; a grocery store-prepared fruit salad; or some raw milk 3 year aged cheddar that has been in my fridge since August 18th and from which I had to scrape off a light coating of mold. Wow, I live on the edge, eh? Short of throwing out the entire contents of my fridge and only eating bananas and white bread from now on, what do you think is the likely culprit? I ask about the raw milk cheese because I have a couple of food-obsessed friends who are actually afraid of the bacteria and will only eat pasteurized because of horror stories they've heard. Have you had any bad experiences with unpasteurized bacteria?

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  1. Your scenario qualified you as a daredevil! On the raw milk cheese issue... I'm no expert but recently visited Cow Girl Creamery in Point Reyes Station, CA. Trying many samples of raw milk cheeses from the US as well as Europe with no ill side affects, I asked the lady helping me what the concerns by the USDA were about raw milk cheese? Her response was that although minor, the bacteria concern was legitimate as no one can guarantee a perfectly safe supply of raw milk from source to curd. She said that in cheesemaking, the bacterias that form, both good and bad, will battle it out for the first 60 days, upon which, if the cheesemaking was performed in a proper manner in a hygenic location, the good bacteria overwhelm the bad and pretty much eat/eliminate the boogies within that 60-day window. Once raw milk cheese has aged for at least 60 days, it can be allowed to enter the food stream for consumption. Again, this is my simplistic version of what the cheesemonger explained to me.

    As to the mold issue, I've always been told that mold growing on cheese is normally not a concern. The mold spores typically already exist in and on the body of the cheese and should be scraped away as it appears. Obviously the further you let it grow, the more it will affect the taste and quality of the cheese, to the point where it is just not worth eating. Check out this short ChowTip video...

    Based on what you listed, I find store-prepared fruit salad to often be the culprit. I know of quite a few victims (me included) who have figured fruit salad to be the source - I don't touch fruit salad from an unknown source anymore. The amount of preparation that involves a lot of contact with various outer surfaces of fruits and creating more surface area (by slicing, cutting, dicing) with knives, counters, boards, bowls, etc. that then comes in to more surface contact increases its probability.

    Another strong possibility is the sausage. Again, the increased surface area of ground meat combined with a (most likely) commercial machine that is grinding a lot of meat scraps is a bacteria scenario. Freezing probably put any potential bugs in hibernation - you are supposed to keep ground meats of any kind as cold as possible until you use them to retard bacterial growth and oxidation. Undercooking the sausage might have awaken the bacteria?

    1 Reply
    1. re: bulavinaka

      And I second the reasoning. I have read too many stories about fruit cutting sweat shops that make me not wanting to eat that stuff ever again.

    2. Fruit salad seems likely, and you may have developed some immunity from the bout.

      1. I don't think I've ever had raw milk cheese, and I love cheese. Where would I find it, are there any brands to look for? Oh and sometimes you just get sick, but I wouldn't put it past sausage to get ya.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Flofy

          I'm in LA where there are what I consider to be cheese "boutiques," or stores whose inventories are pretty much composed of cheese, charcuterie, breads, maybe some accessories, and wine. Places like this should carry raw milk cheese. If you have a Whole Foods in your area, they're usually a good place to check as well. I can't vouch for their access to raw milk cheese but for a chain, they do carry a great selection of harder to find cheeses, particularly from places like Europe. Local gourmet stores are obviously a great place to check as well.

          If none of these are available, you can also go online. I mentioned a place that I visited - Cow Girl Creamery - they have a website and you can purchase raw milk cheeses through them. It's kinda pricey but I truly enjoyed their selections. I would guess that you could also call and speak with someone to indicate your tastes in cheeses so they might be able to taylor your order. Good luck!

          1. re: bulavinaka

            The raw milk cheeses, both domestic and imported, that Cowgirl sells are all aged 60 days or more.

          2. re: Flofy

            Never had Parmigiano reggiano? Roquefort? These and many other controlled appellation cheeses from France and Italy are raw milk or that cannot bear that name.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              I did not know that. So I guess I have. Thank you. I've never really studied cheeses, but love to learn about them. In recent years I've experimented way more. And I never don't have fresh Parmigiano reggiano in the fridge. In summer I grow basil and tomatoes, so it's handy for a quick snack.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                While true that these cheeses (parm, roq) are made from unpasteurized milk they are then subjected to prolonged aging prior to consumption. Once they have been aged for a certain period of time (to assure that they are not/no longer harboring any harmful bacteria) they may then be legally imported and sold in the US. With these cheeses the risk of contracting a food borne illness is no greater than with pasteurized milk cheese.

                The OP was specifically talking about illegal raw milk cheeses, that is young cheeses made from unpasteurized milk. But "illegal" also depends on where you live. While the FDA prohibits interstate transport of raw milk products aged less than 60 days, each state may develop its own regulations for the production and sale of raw dairy.

            2. My opinion is the whole raw food danger thing is nonsense.
              I've gotten sick from more cooked food than raw except for the obvious piece of rotten sushi which I ignored. Raw cheese, honey, fruit juice and so on is delicious, but like any food, raw or cooked, must be prepared right. Sometimes your system may have a reaction to raw food. I once put a pound of asparagus in a juicer and I felt it for the next day. After that no problemo. I guess with raw flesh you should find out where it's from before you eat. You probably don't want to eat under cooked meat of any kind if purchased from a hot stall like you see in Chinatown for example.

              1. Welcome to the raw food (good bacteria) camp! I'm somewhat proud to say I have a surprisingly similar food preference as yours. In fact, I've pretty much had what you had within the last few weeks, except for the stir-fry, pre-made salad (never for me, at least if I have to buy them) and the hour-old latte. On the other hand, I regularly have day-old tea lattes, and I'd rather eat under-cooked eggs and sausage and other meats, for fear of over-cooking them and from being too lazy returning them back to the pot or grill. I also regularly even store cheese, mostly unpasteurized, at room temperature, simply because I'm quite immobile these days.

                About the "horror stories" on the raw cheeses. The raw cheeses I could find are mostly from France or from the artesan cheesemakers in Quebec, and from my simplistic point of view, their standards should be at least as good, if not better, than the cheese factories elsewhere. If and when mold appears, I simply cut of that part and continue eating away.

                For the record, my digestive system is in perfect health, and I never had ANY food poisoning, short of two times, both of which I was quite certain was from oysters. More bacteria, more flavour, and more training on the stomach.