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Raw Milk Cheesemakers Fret Over Possible New Rules

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  1. I found the choice of the word "fret" offensive in this article. Raw milk cheeses cannot be made any other way. and to restrict their production is to destroy them. "Fret?" that's an insult to the cheesemakers. Needless to say, they are more than just upset over these projections.

    20 Replies
    1. re: ChefJune

      I agree with you--"fret" is a poor choice of word for this headline.

      Wrt the original article, I understand the need for safety (and for government overseeing that safety) BUT if cheese is clearly labeled "raw milk" (as most, if not all, are), surely we could allow the consumer to determine whether or not he/she decides to take the risk. I enjoy raw milk cheeses and I willingly take the chance that it could potentially be dangerous. Why not just a warning label, like those on cigarettes or alcohol. Seems to me that the possible danger is fairly small anyway. Good gawd, why do people expect life to be risk-free?

      1. re: nofunlatte

        Clearly the FDA favors an outright ban over paying for an expansion of its inspection machinery. Are small producers willing/able to protect themselves from litigious consumers in the event of bacterial contamination? I'm not so sure the popular inclination to libertarianism works when it comes to food safety.

        1. re: Kagemusha

          Ridiculous. This is just another example of the over-reach of government. I do NOT want the government to make my consumption choices for me.

          Ultimately, the raw milk versus pasteurized milk cheese debate is about infection and contamination control. Major outbreaks of food borne illness can be carried by pasteurized milk which has been contaminated by the manufacturing process just as easily as they can by raw milk.

          1. re: flourgirl

            "I do NOT want the government to make my consumption choices for me."

            But would you sue "the government" for not protecting you?

            1. re: Kagemusha

              As a matter of fact, I think the country has been over-run with attorneys, people have been brainwashed into believing that it's ALWAYS someone's fault and that everytime something bad happens, SOMEONE MUST PAY. Our overly litigious society is destroying our way of life and severely reducing our freedoms and freedom of choice, as this article illustrates quite well. And I think it sucks.

              1. re: flourgirl

                Freedom to suffer from listeria and E. coli? OK... That's a "way of life" I'm happy to avoid.

                1. re: Kagemusha

                  And that should be your choice. But YOU shouldn't get to make the calls for ME. If I want to take my chances eating raw milk cheeses, I should be able to. And I don't want our nanny government telling me I can't either.

                  1. re: flourgirl

                    Gee, I'm partial to my "nanny state." Hope you can afford a touch of E. coli.

                    1. re: Kagemusha

                      Aren't you from Canada? You have plenty of raw milk cheese there. Why should the USA be any different?

                      1. re: sedimental

                        Why? Because you don't have the Canada Food Inspection Agency--yet another aspect of our nanny state, eh? Raw milk cheeses are fine--provided you're willing, as we are, to pay,through taxes(gasp), for an inspection grid that monitors quality along the production chain. Plainly, the FDA opted for a ban since paying for more inspection/monitoring was politically unpopular. Just depends on the kind of society you want but you get what you pay for.

                        1. re: Kagemusha

                          (because the data's all in one place - check the footnotes if you're doubtful


                          US: 76 million cases of foodborne illness from 1996-1998 (out of a population of 272m - we'll call it 25m cases per year, so about 9% of the population had fbi at some point during that 2-year period) with a hospitalization rate of 111 per 100,000 inhabitants. Mortality rate: 1.7 per 100,000 inhabitants (this is the country that blocks raw-milk cheeses, so they're not getting sick from the cheese!)

                          France: 750,000 cases during the same time period (population 58m, so about 1.2%), with 24 hospitalized per 100,000 inhabitants (one-third that of the US!) and a mortality rate of 0.9 -- that's less than one person in 100,000. (Treasures their raw-milk cheeses, with a solid belief that raw-milk cheeses with living cultures boosts one's immune system)

                          Canada: http://www.canfightbac.org/cpcfse/en/...

                          "Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada estimate that every year between 11 and 13 million Canadians suffer from illnesses caused by foodborne bacteria. "

                          Couldn't find the hospitalization or mortality rates -- what's Canada got to hide? -- but with 30 million people, that's a whopping 30% that are diagnosed with some sort of foodborne illness. Allows some raw-milk cheeses (would be interesting to compare Quebec's data against the rest of the country, since Quebec allows much more raw-milk cheese)...but mostly not.

                          Wanna start in again on how raw-milk cheeses are unsafe and deadly?

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            Any chance our provincial health care systems simply do a better reporting job? They likely amass data ranging from Dr.s office nausea+diarrhea visits to long-term care due to renal failure caused by E. coli.

                            "Wanna start in again on how raw-milk cheeses are unsafe and deadly?"

                            Cheese and dairy products are one of many vectors for bacterial infection. Processed meat products are probably a bigger problem here in light of recent recalls.

                            My point remains that the FDA is erring on the side of caution but can't/won't extend its inspection grid due to budgetary constraints. Cheese fans are pissed. I get that.

                            1. re: Kagemusha

                              yes, they must do a better reporting job...that's why the hospitalization and mortality rates were so easy to find, because surely they have nothing to hide!

                              but saying that oh, isn't it wonderful is just shortsighted.

                              And while I agree that cheese and dairy products are *possible* vectors (along with pig-ear snacks for dogs and reptiles as pets), saying that raw-milk cheese should be banned is just faulty logic. By the logic that you state, all ground beef and baloney should be banned LONG before raw-milk cheeses,..and THAT ain't gonna happen any day soon.

                              and the day that the FDA turns out anything that looks like rational conclusions based on actual data, rather than kneejerk reactions to public hype, speculation, and heavily influenced by food factory dollars, I might think about listening.

                              1. re: sunshine842

                                Folks, this thread is headed down the road of a debate with people picking apart each other's words rather than sharing information with each other in a friendly manner. We're going to ask that you let this sub-thread go.

                      2. re: Kagemusha

                        If you are seriously worried about contracting an e. coli infection, than you should pretty much stop eating anything except for - possibly - food you grow yourself. There have been e. coli contaminations in all kinds of foodways in the U.S. Lots of them.

                        And the U.S. was not founded on values related to a "nanny" kind of government. But too many people, like you, apparently, are so paralyzed with fear that you are willing to relinquish all of our freedoms to a "father figure" government that seems almost daily to slip further towards fascism. I'm sick of it.

                    2. re: Kagemusha

                      hardly. Millions of people around the world eat raw milk cheeses, and the incidence of listeria and e. coli is lower in a LOT of them than in the US.

                      There's a half-dozen kinds of cheese in my refrigerator right now, and most of it is raw-milk.

                      1. re: Kagemusha

                        So I am guessing that you are looking for Raw Chicken to also be outlawed?

                        1. re: DougRisk

                          Two orders of Chicken Sashimi for all my "friends" here!

                          1. re: Kagemusha

                            Of course, most people do choose to cook their Chicken. Granted, I am guessing that more than a few have undercooked, and eaten that undercooked chicken on occasion.

                            So, people should be outlawed from buying raw chicken, right?

                            I mean, it could kill you.

              2. re: nofunlatte

                I'm sure that the headline writer used "fret" because it's a short word. "Cheesemakers" is a long word, and there's only so much room on the headline.

            2. Do the FDA Nazis have an explanation for how French citizens manage to survive when their world is full of deadly unpasteurized dairy products?

              1. My other main observation is that the cheeses in question here were purchased at Costco. There are many things I go to Costco to purchase. Artisan cheese is DEFINITELY not one of them. It would not occur to me to buy something that time sensitive in a place meant for total mass production. In fact, the only food I ever would purchase there would be something like canned tomatoes.

                24 Replies
                1. re: ChefJune

                  Point taken, but I don't think the final outlet is really the problem as far as food safety. Yes, cheese like raw milk brie can grow more bacteria over time, even when stored properly. But, the larger question is whether the manufacturer is following proper methods in production (and whether they can afford the insurance, which is a whole other issue.) One of the manufacturers mentioned in the article was using unsanitary methods, while others who pasteurized their milk, weren't doing so adequately. It seems fairly obvious that our regulatory laws are antiquated as far as science is concerned, and in need of update. What I'm interested in is how often small producers will survive in the face of increased regulation, which while beneficial to the public, shouldn't put anyone out of business, IMO.

                  1. re: amyzan

                    FYI, Brie is NOT traditionally a raw milk cheese. But many other cheeses cannot be made from pasteurized milk. Are we to be deprived of all of them because Walmart or Costco stores artisan cheeses incorrectly?

                    1. re: ChefJune

                      Yes, I know this, but again, I don't think the article pinpoints this as the problem. I would be interested to know if improper storage is the culprit, but I just haven't found info to that effect anywhere as of yet.

                      1. re: ChefJune

                        Actually, all three bries, Brie de Meaux, Brie de Melun, and Coulommiers, are all made from raw milk. Newer products from the region such as Brillat-Savarin are made from both as are many industrial bries. But the original small production farm style bries are raw.

                        1. re: ChefJune

                          Since when is Brie not a raw-milk cheese? REAL Brie de Meaux or Brie de Melun (or any of the other half-dozen varieties of Brie that are made in the Brie region) -- not the pasteurized crud slapped in a box and gets sold for a markup just because it has the words "Brie" and "France" on the box.

                          In order for it to carry either of the AOCs set aside for Brie (Brie de Meaux and Brie de Melun) it MUST be raw-milk. If it's pasteurized, it's just Brie and cannot carry an AOC.

                          (sorry, Deluca, we crossed the streams there)

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            ... which brings up an interesting question ... would the US ban ALL raw milk cheeses? Here in Canada, our federal government considered this in the mid 90s when it decided that all cheese should be made from pasteurized milk and stored for 60 days or more. The ban would have extended to many imported cheeses, including Parmigiano-Reggiano! It was the outcry from consumers and producers that forced the government to "stop the madness" (and I suspect, to some degree, the government's inability to explain why cheeses such as Reggiano, which had been imported for ages, and consumed world-wide, would all of a sudden no longer be accessible).

                              1. re: Kagemusha

                                not talking about raw milk in my reference above

                                1. re: CocoTO

                                  But the argument for access to raw milk as a denied "right" here is consonant with this thread's issues.

                                  1. re: Kagemusha

                                    The US allows raw-milk cheeses, by the way, so long as they've been aged for more than 60 days.

                        2. re: ChefJune

                          Hmm. I've bought maladorous crap from boutique cheese shops too cheap to pitch staledated stock. Costco assiduously monitors dates, far more so than indies with low turnover.

                          1. re: Kagemusha

                            then you don't know what to look for. If you paid for over-the-hill cheese, it's YOUR fault.

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              Right, and all small retailers are totally ethical and honest. Pull the other one.

                              1. re: Kagemusha

                                Of course not, but at Costco you have to do your own homework, and if so it works fine. At a good retail cheese store you are paying for someone to watch the product, the date on the product, and the best time to consume it. l have worked in 11 cheese stores in 5 countries, including your home Canada and have never seen anything other than ethical behavior, even when it really hurts the small store financially.

                                1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                  Try Global Cheese in Toronto but I suspect exceptions wouldn't disprove your rule...

                                  1. re: Kagemusha

                                    Come on Kagemusha! Global Cheese is notorious on Ontario's Board for having poor cheese habits ... don't paint the rest of our cheesemongers with that brush.

                                    1. re: CocoTO

                                      Recent Ontario threads on cheese shops suggest the list isn't short or limited to Global.

                                      1. re: Kagemusha

                                        I've been following the threads and Global is the one that has the persistent reputation - not saying you can't get a "past due" cheese somewhere else, but not in a way that their entire reputation would be at risk

                                        1. re: CocoTO

                                          Global is indifferent to bad press. The fact we report bad experiences widely should wise up shop owners, not all of whom know there are lots of places to buy cheese around the GTA.

                                  2. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                    You're really standing here telling us that industrial cheese at Costco is somehow a healthier choice than something sold by a smaller store?


                                    If you make yourself an educated cheese consumer (indeed any kind of food product) basing your choices on something other than an expiration date, you wouldn't have this issue.

                                    Big companies are no more ethical than small ones.

                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                      Costco isn't in the cheese business, nor is any large grocery retailer. Low volume specialty stores haven't been dependable in terms of quality. That's been my takehome lesson in becoming an "educated cheese consumer." Cheese rip-offs are ubiquitous.

                                    2. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                      Certainly the vast majority of cheese shop owners act ethically, but there is also the issue of expertise. There has been a rapid increase in recent years in the number of cheese shops across the US and Canada. In some cases, well-meaning people without a sufficient background in cheese and without the knowledge or resources to train their staff adequately have opened shops or expanded their existing stores to carry high quality cheeses. That is why the American Cheese Society is in the process of creating a certification program for cheese professionals. Not everyone agrees that such a credential is needed, but there is clearly a perception in the industry that expansion has led to some problems. Even if this is true, there are many excellent cheesemongers who know how to recognize quality and properly care for the cheeses they sell. I find it difficult to believe that, in a city as large as Toronto, there is no one that fits that description.

                                      We shouldn't forget that the retailer is not the only party involved. Ethically, I've always been more concerned about the behavior of some distributors who engage in questionable practices--selling over-the-hill cheeses to retailers (especially those who have small accounts with them), assuming that retailers won't recognize differences in condition, charging for more weight than is sold, packing cheeses improperly on delivery trucks so that wheels are squashed or otherwise damaged in transit, yet arguing that retailers should accept them.

                                      1. re: cheesemaestro

                                        "the American Cheese Society is in the process of creating a certification program for cheese professionals"

                                        *cheers*whistles*jumps up and down*

                                        Never thought I'd hear that announcement...there is SO MUCH to cheese, it's nice to see that there's a way to get that knowledge and expertise recognized. Hope you're first in line, maestro.

                            2. I stopped reading after, "recalls and two multistate E. coli outbreaks that sickened nearly 50 people."

                              Really? We're getting worked up after 50 people got sick? I bet I could find something really stupid that KILLED 50 people. Heck, I'll guess right now that (way) over 50 died last year from choking on certain foods. So, naturally, we should only eat pureed foods! Go, Government!

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: ediblover

                                Exactly. That's exactly how ridiculous this is.

                                1. re: ediblover

                                  Yeah, it's interesting to me, too. The FDA is getting potentially more power of oversight on many fronts, when we've had much larger outbreaks of e. coli in our history from everything from spinach to fast food.

                                2. They didn't shut down the fast food restaurants when E. coli hit (and killed people). Hmmm...what makes this so different? It is not as if ALL unpasteurized products are contaminated- just like not all fast food restaurants burgers are E.coli infected.

                                  This is getting so ridiculous. I don't want tasteless, sterilized, processed, government approved food.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: sedimental

                                    The pharmaceutical, alcohol and tobacco industry is allowed to get away with whatever this ban is suppose to protect the public from by including a dense lawyerspeak pamphlet or sticker warning over every possible, real or imagined, side affect from consumption. My guess is raw milk groups simply don't have the money to buy the necessary political cachet to keep the FDA off their backs or working for them (as inspectors as other posters have mentioned) instead of erasing them as a inconvenient job responsibility.

                                  2. In the 70's I owned a goat farm in upstate NY where I had about 20 milk goats and I made and sold cheese, yougurt, ice cream and milk. At that time, if I did not convert to machine milking I was not allowed to sell my products unless the consumer came to me. With just 20 goats, I always ran out of product because people were allowed to buy it as long as I din't advertise. It would have been $10,000.00 that I did not have. However, I understand the fact that the government wants oversight. Goat milk does not carry brucellois or tuberculosis. Raw cow milk can. I think the regulations should seperate goat milk and goat milk products. That being said, when I was a small producer, even just in my area, friends of mine, there were small dairy producers that were dirty. Dairy production has to be a very clean situation and I always invited potential milk buyers to see my operation. I think that the consumer of raw milk products has to examine the source. Just an aside, I come from Queens and my grandfather was a milkman at Sheffield Farms. He had a delivery horse named Daisy and remember we used to get containers of milk with cream on the top, put in the metal box on the stoop.

                                    1. This discussion has gotten increasingly polarized and IMO has led to some untenable conclusions, regardless of which side of the issue one is on.

                                      I'm a cheese lover and a former cheesemonger and I stand firmly in the camp of allowing raw milk cheeses to be sold to the public. If it were up to me, I would repeal the 60-day rule, too. However, to those who assert that 50 people being sickened by E. coli after eating cheese isn't a big deal, I say that I beg to disagree. It IS a big deal. E. coli 0157:H7 can kill small children and adults who are immunocompromised. Outbreaks of listeriosis related to cheese consumption have killed people. Saying that raw milk cheeses should be legal isn't tantamount to saying that consumers should accept all of the risk, nor that there need be no oversight of poor safety and sanitation practices.

                                      Last December, Sally Jackson, an iconic pioneer in the American artisanal cheese movement from Washington (state), chose to stop making cheese after 30 years, rather than fight allegations made by FDA inspectors that her cheesemaking operation was unsanitary and dangerous following a small E. coli outbreak that was traced back to her cheeses. For those of you who had the good fortune to taste Sally Jackson's cheeses, they were outstanding. It's a real loss to cheese enthusiasts, and for her, a sad way to go out. Here is a report on the alleged conditions that led to her demise:


                                      I've never been on Sally Jackson's property, but these allegations, if true, are disturbing, and the fact that no one was sickened before isn't really relevant. Without having first-hand knowledge of her operation, I can't tell if the FDA's response was reasonable or an overreaction, but I will say that anyone who makes cheese for public consumption bears a responsibility to adopt safe and sanitary practices. Most American cheesemakers know that and do their best to put a healthy product in consumers' hands, but the few who don't--whether through ignorance or through willful disregard for the potential consequences--need to be singled out and appropriately sanctioned. That should apply not only to large industrial cheesemaking operations, but also to the "little guys."

                                      The real question is how to do this fairly. My biggest problem with the FDA's getting involved is that they draw illogical conclusions and apply a sledgehammer to every situation. If the occasional cheesemaker using unpasteurized milk is guilty of bad practices, that is not a reason to ban all raw milk cheeses, but only to address the offending cheesemaker.

                                      My second problem with the FDA is that they start from a partisan position of believing that all raw milk cheese is dangerous and dismiss all evidence to the contrary. As others have noted, there is now a substantial body of research that shows that the issue is not so simple. The fact is that most cheese-related illness is caused POST production, i.e., not of the cheesemaker's doing. Raw milk cheeses contain good bacteria that keep the bad ones in check and eventually reduce or eliminate them during aging. (For this reason, fresh cheeses that aren't aged need to be handled especially carefully.) When cheese is pasteurized, all bacteria are killed, so if there is post contamination, there are no good microorganisms left and pathogens can quickly multiply to dangerous levels. Therefore, the FDA needs to be just as concerned about pasteurized milk cheeses as raw milk cheeses and not give consumers the false impression that pasteurization provides a guarantee of safety.

                                      In summary, I would advocate that more emphasis be placed on educating those involved with cheese at all levels--cheesemakers, importers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers and consumers--and that selective enforcement, rather than broad brush suppression, is the proper way to deal with the small number of violations of good practices. Informed consumers should have the choice of buying raw milk cheese. Eating such cheese may not be totally risk free (What is?), but with good practices being observed down the line, the risk is quite small.

                                      7 Replies
                                      1. re: cheesemaestro

                                        excellent synopsis cheesemaestro. The same thinking should apply on both sides of the border ...

                                        1. re: cheesemaestro

                                          I don't think one single person here advocated for NO oversight by the FDA and no regulations regarding food production and cleanliness. There is a very big difference between reasonable regulation and outright bans.

                                            1. re: cheesemaestro

                                              50 sick people isn't a big deal. For every medicine, vaccine, drug (essentially, everything), you will have a small segment of the population that will have a bad reaction to it; that's why everything has a disclaimer. For the consumer it's all about weighing the risks.

                                              I commented earlier about choking and checked the numbers. Turns out that choking is the #1 killer among young kids. So, does that mean we should ban all solid foods? Isn't it up to the parents to make sure they don't have high risk items?

                                              On the cheese and when exactly something goes back, I doubt you can provide much evidence to when the cheese becomes contaminated/dangerous. I mean, these things are often sealed post-production (Tough for something to go wrong when it's in an air tight container). From what I can gather, the big source of contamination comes from the production phase. Also, heating milk doesn't kill everything in milk. If it did, there would be no need for refrigeration.

                                              1. re: ediblover

                                                Eating cheese is not like being vaccinated. People don't generally get sick from uncontaminated cheese (unless they are allergic to milk proteins). It's not an idiosyncratic reaction of the body. As for 50 sick people not being a big deal, tell that to each person who got sick.

                                                You say that it is not possible to determine when a cheese becomes contaminated, but it is sometimes possible to figure that out. Contrary to what you assert, many kinds of cheese are not sealed. A wheel of cheese can crack and allow bacteria to enter. Furthermore, once a cheese is cut open, there are many ways it can become contaminated, not the least of which is cross-contamination. As for your contention that the contamination occurs mostly in the production phase, the statistics do not bear that out. The large majority of foodborne illnesses related to cheese have been traced to post production abuse, not to production problems, although there have been some cases of that as well.

                                                1. re: cheesemaestro

                                                  I have to agree in part and disagree in part. Yes, for the 50 people who got sick it's a big deal, but you could say that about a lot of things. The question is, is 50 people getting sick a big enough deal that the government has to step in a ban whole categories of foods that billions of people have consumed for centuries? In other words, like a lot of things it's a risk/cost-benefit analysis. A one in a five million chance of getting sick sucks if you're the one, but isn't a high enough risk (IMHO) for the government to step in and take drastic measures. After all, it also sucks to be one of the more-than-fifty careful, conscientious cheesemakers who would lose their businesses. As other people have noted, there are lots of other much more risky products that the government is perfectly happy to allow people to consume.

                                                  Finally, when people throw around the figures for "foodborne" illnesses they are often conflating the illnesses that are caused by pathogens carried by the food itself (like listeria and salmonella) and the ones that are caused by the food being contaminated by food handlers (like hepatitis and norovirus). The number of illnesses from the food-specific pathogens themselves would be lower.

                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                    Ruth, I think that you've misinterpreted what I said, or perhaps it has been made less clear, since the mods recently deleted a large segment of this thread containing posts from me and others. I would certainly agree that 50 people getting sick is not a reason to eliminate an entire category of food. As a person whose primary food passion is cheese, I find the prospect of the FDA banning all raw milk cheeses unthinkable. In fact, I came down hard on the FDA for taking a sledgehammer approach when only selective enforcement is needed. Please go about six responses up in this thread and see my long response in which I talk about the Sally Jackson cheese situation. My position is, and always has been, that if a foodborne illness is traceable to a specific cheesemaker, the problem needs to be addressed with that cheesemaker, rather than making broad and indefensible assumptions about the safety of cheese (raw or pasteurized) in general. In that sense, 50 (or even fewer) people getting sick is signficant, in order to determine if the outbreak could have been prevented and if changes can be made to minimize the possibility of a future outbreak.