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US FDA Rules No Wooden Boards in Cheese Aging

"...the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week announced it will not permit American cheesemakers to age cheese on wooden boards." This may also affect the import of cheeses from elsewhere that are aged on wood.


This piece from last year describes what aging on wood contributes to cheese character.


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  1. So sad and annoying. As if there was a huge outbreak of food poisoning caused by this. So stupid and senseless.

    1. As a cheese consumer, not producer, I don't have a problem with the regulation. It may be that the great majority of cheesemakers have a completely safe operation, but consider the following excerpt from an FDA enforcement action:

      "On June 19, 2012, the FDA informed your firm of the environmental sampling results.  Your firm indicated that you would stop production to clean and sanitize your facility.  During the July 2012 inspection of your facility, an FDA investigator observed the following significant violations of the Current Good Manufacturing Practice regulation for foods [21 CFR Part 110]:

      1. You failed to clean food-contact surfaces as frequently as necessary to protect against contamination of food as required by 21 CFR 110.35(d).  You failed to clean and sanitize all of the wooden boards used to hold your Gouda-style cheese in the large aging cave even after FDA informed you of positive L. monocytogenes results found on one of these boards.

      2. You failed to clean non-food contact surfaces of your facility as frequently as necessary to protect against contamination of food as required by 21 CFR 110.35(d)(3).  You failed to clean any of the metal racks in the large aging cave used to hold the wooden boards (used to hold cheese) even after FDA informed you of positive L. monocytogenes results found on one of these racks."

      Cheesemakers should place the blame where it belongs — on those within their own ranks who have unsanitary operations. If the FDA feels a stricter rule is necessary to keep Listeria out of the food supply, that's their business and their responsibility.

      23 Replies
      1. re: GH1618

        I think the answer is to enforce the existing rules, not to ban a whole method of cheese aging that has not been shown to be harmful when done properly. If you want to draw your argument to its logical conclusion, if some cheese-making operations are unsanitary, then they should ban all cheese!

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          It isn't clear that it has been banned. I couldn't find the original document on which this is based, so I don't know what the FDA intends to do other than enforce existing regulations. The existing regulations do not prohibit wood, but they do require sanitary facilities for the production of food. It seems that so far the FDA has merely made an interpretation that wood in contact with food is not sanitary, but I want to see the FDA document.

          It is important to note that this did not just come out of the blue. A few years ago there was a report prepared by the FDA and the comparable Canadian authority on the problem of Listeria in food. The FDA has been inspecting cheesemaking operations for awhile and has found Listeria in several, and found cases of illness caused by Listeria. They have brought enforcement actions against a few cheesemakers with unsanitary conditions, and I have posted an excerpt from one of these. These enforcement actions are entirely legitimate. It is what the FDA does to protect our food supply.

          I would like to see the following rather than jump to conclusions about what the FDA is doing or planning to do.

          1. Original FDA documents pertaining to the regulation or prohibition of the use of wood in cheesemaking, including proposed regulations.

          2. Original FDA documents showing enforcement actions against any cheesemaker merely for using wood, without having found Listeria or some other pathogen at the plant.

          Can anyone provide a link to these?

          1. re: GH1618

            The blog Melanie linked quoted the FDA as stating that wooden shelves are inherently unsanitary -- if a direct quote from an FDA ruling is not sufficient for you, you can search for the original documents yourself!

            The blog states:

            Recently, the FDA inspected several New York state cheesemakers and cited them for using wooden surfaces to age their cheeses. The New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets' Division of Milk Control and Dairy Services, which (like most every state in the U.S., including Wisconsin), has allowed this practice, reached out to FDA for clarification on the issue. A response was provided by Monica Metz, Branch Chief of FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition's (CFSAN) Dairy and Egg Branch.

            In the response, Metz stated that the use of wood for cheese ripening or aging is considered an unsanitary practice by FDA, and a violation of FDA's current Current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) regulations. Here's an excerpt:

            "Microbial pathogens can be controlled if food facilities engage in good manufacturing practice. Proper cleaning and sanitation of equipment and facilities are absolutely necessary to ensure that pathogens do not find niches to reside and proliferate. Adequate cleaning and sanitation procedures are particularly important in facilities where persistent strains of pathogenic microorganisms like Listeria monocytogenes could be found. The use of wooden shelves, rough or otherwise, for cheese ripening does not conform to cGMP requirements, which require that "all plant equipment and utensils shall be so designed and of such material and workmanship as to be adequately cleanable, and shall be properly maintained." 21 CFR 110.40(a). Wooden shelves or boards cannot be adequately cleaned and sanitized. 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. The shelves or boards used for aging make direct contact with finished products; hence they could be a potential source of pathogenic microorganisms in the finished products."

            So they are enforcing existing rules about sanitation, but clarifying that wooden shelves do not meet the existing sanitation requirements.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              I did search and I can't find it. I am not in the habit of popping off on a subject without doing my homework, and I always want to see the original documents. I'll wait for some actual FDA document.

              1. re: GH1618

                "I am not in the habit of popping off on a subject without doing my homework" -- well apparently you are, since your homework is incomplete.

        2. re: GH1618

          O.K., I considered it. So what? That is one example of one bad producer. I think the issue is how many people have gotten ill from aging cheese on wooden boards? I don't know the answer to that but I've never heard of it being an issue. This is the same group that bans raw milk cheeses under 60 (?) days old, right?

          Maybe it isn't a reach on the part of the FDA but, again, I've never heard of this being an issue.

          1. re: HoosierFoodie

            The FDA requires pasteurization of all milk products sold in interstate commerce, except for aged cheeses, as they should. I believe 60 days is correct.

            It isn't necessary for people to become ill for the FDA to act. If Listeria, a known pathogen, is found in a plant, the plant operators will be required to clean it up and to demonstrate that their operation meets the regulations. Listeria has, in fact, been found in plants producing aged cheeses, and it is the burden of those cheesemakers to deal with it and prove to the FDA that their process is sanitary. That is the way it should work.

            1. re: GH1618

              'The FDA requires pasteurization of all milk products sold in interstate commerce, except for aged cheeses, as they should.'

              AS THEY SHOULD, l think very not. To date there has been no case of Listeria due to raw milk, always improperly pasteurized milk. Listeria is able to grow in an environment where the stronger bacteria in raw milk is not there to prevent it from happening.
              Europe has been making raw milk cheese for centuries with very little bad happening. l personally only eat raw milk cheeses and have been for many decades. You are telling me it is fine for the government to prevent me from having it, really ?
              BTW, the USA makes many wonderful raw milk cheeses that are sold interstate, example Jasper Hills Winnimere, that are aged less than your 60 day statement.

              1. re: GH1618

                I like you, GH, I really do -- but you're really being misled here.

                There are millions and millions of people who eat raw-milk cheeses and/or cheeses aged on wood boards around the world every single day.

                It simply isn't automatically contaminated.

                Enforce the rules, but don't outlaw centuries of tradition that HASN'T harmed millions of people because of a few cases of repeat offenders who should have been shut down.

                1. re: sunshine842

                  Or just put a warning on it. That way people who are uncomfortable don't need to eat it, and the rest of us can just freely gorge ourselves on this deliciousness.

                  1. re: EatFoodGetMoney

                    Exactly -- I'm totally cool with that (even if I think it's silly)

                    1. re: sunshine842

                      Definitely silly, and unnecessary in both our opinions, but if it's that or nothing, I suppose we could take it haha.

                  2. re: sunshine842

                    Thanks, but ...

                    There are always a few people in internet forums who seem to think that if someone takes an opposing position it must be because they are uninformed, or misinformed, or paid to take another position.  There are seven billion people in the world, each with an individual point of view.  Some of those people will be as well-informed as anyone can be, yet reach differing conclusions simply because they have differing values and so weigh the various factors differently.

                    I happen to favor strict regulation of food safety, so believe that the risk of certain pathogens in food, even though small, should be minimized.  I know something about safety engineering, and know that every good safety protocol has redundancy.  I place no value at all on a commercial cheesemaker's right to use a traditional process or piece of equipment when there is any conflict at all with food safety regulations.  I believe that it is entirely appropriate for any producer of food sold in interstate commerce to meet FDA standards of sanitation.  That position isn't a matter of what information I am using, but what my values are.

                    I also believe that if cheesemakers stop whinging and concentrate on the problem of how best to control Listeria and certain other pathogens to the FDA's satisfaction that they will come up with a satisfactory solution. 

                    1. re: GH1618

                      What do you think about restaurants serving rare burgers, rare steaks, sushi, raw eggs, raw meats etc?

                      Do you consider the costs of these regulations? Monetary, and the fact that people are robbed of their choice to eat certain things.

                      Why would you oppose simply labeling these products with a sticker?

                      There are lots of ways to make the world "safer," but they all have costs, and there are plenty of times where the costs (I know, subjective) severely outweigh the benefits (also subjective).

                      1. re: EatFoodGetMoney

                        If I were selling hamburgers, I wouldn't cook them rare, regardless of my source of meat.

                        I happen to like sushi. Good sushi bars are the cleanest of restaurants, and the processes for ensuring a safe product well understood.

                        1. re: GH1618

                          Maybe logical in the US where I think fish must be frozen to kill the parasites if it is to be used for raw preparations. But not all countries insist on this and you need to be very careful - I tend to only eat it in Japan and Sydney.

                          If I were selling hamburgers I would be cautious as well in a litigious country like the US. But if making my own I would eat them rare.

                      2. re: GH1618

                        GH1618 - I can't help but think your first two paragraphs are contradictory. In the first you argue its perfectly reasonable to have different opinions. But in the second you say we must all eat food cheese that meets your standards of safety. So those that are happy to accept a greater risk are not allowed to.

                        Much traditional food has risk and its risk thats been mitigated against for years and years so that the processes are relatively safe and very very low risk. Educate consumers and let them understand the risks but lets not ban these perfectly safe foods or production techniques.

                        Conversely, much mass produced food is far more risky. The mass industrialisation of food has introduced new techniques and additives which are really untried and not tested over time. BSE is a good example of this. Let's ensure this sector is fully regulated, assessed, monitored and controlled.

                        Mass produced cheese from a factory can be produced in a safe, highly regulated and monitored environment, and can be labelled as such.

                        Artisan cheese production needs to be regulated and monitored. But the standards applied need to be sensible and appropriate. Bad/dangerous practice should be addressed and eliminated. The products should be labelled appropriately and consumers can make their choice.

                        But lets not apply a uniform standard to all food production. All artisan techniques are not appropriate for factories and all factory techniques are not appropriate for artisans.

                        Let there be choice and let the consumer make informed decisions - we don't need a nanny state.

                        1. re: PhilD

                          No, you may eat whatever you like. However you may not sell any food you like in interstate commerce, only that which meets FDA standards.

                          1. re: GH1618

                            OK, I understand that, but what has that got to do with the price of fish?

                            1. re: GH1618

                              So you want your opinions enforced by law and ours don't count at all.

                          2. re: GH1618

                            But there's a difference between food safety and removing all of the things that give food actual flavor.

                            There is no way to make 100% of food 100% safe for 100% of the people, no matter how uniform and sterile and unattractive and untasty you make things.

                            So let others have their right to have an opinion, too. Not everyone believes in your degree of near-sterility.

                            Want a warning label? Okay. But don't outlaw something that millions of people eat every single day just because *you* are squicked out.

                            As mentioned elsewhere, I don't buy for a New York second that this is anything other than political manipulation of regulations to put artisanal cheesemakers out of business.

                            1. re: GH1618

                              Do you work for the FDA or big corporate dairy?

                              1. re: HoosierFoodie

                                I beg your pardon. Besides I have already answered a similar question. I suggest you read the entire thread.

                    2. WOW, what next. l am so thankful my government is protecting me.
                      Yet another reason to spend so much time in France and l do.

                      1. There goes 100% of the limburger cheese. It can only be produced on boards with the good bugs transferred from cheese to cheese.

                        So much for visiting Monroe on my annual Wisconsin cheese buying trek.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                          There is nothing here which supports your assertion that anything must be transferred through unsanitized boards:


                          1. re: GH1618

                            Under the heading of Washing in your link, it talks about abut picking up the natural yeasts through sitting and handling. It was explained to me at the creamery that the yeasts were transferred naturally from the boards.

                            1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                              It also says that "everything must be clean and sanitized." That's all the FDA requires — clean and sanitary facilities for the production of food. Somehow sourdough bread makers manage to use wild yeast without tolerating Listeria in their plants. Cheesemakers need to do the same.

                              1. re: GH1618

                                The faulty part of this argument is the assertion that using wooden boards means "tolerating listeria" -- there's no evidence to show that wooden boards contribute to listeria development. And some evidence, both scientific and centuries of real world experience, to show that in fact it isn't dangerous.

                        2. Here's a link to a document which is purported to be a copy of the original letter, but there is nothing to identify it as such:


                          4 Replies
                          1. re: GH1618

                            See, the homework wasn't that hard. If this isn't good enough, maybe you should talk to Ms. Metz personally. I'm sure she'll be happy to provide you with adequate documentation. Because clearly the cheesemakers are lying scum who are misrepresenting her.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              That document wasn't online when I looked earlier. It was only about an hour old when I found it. And you are being snotty, I think. That isn't helpful.

                              1. re: GH1618

                                Yup, you got me, I was being snotty. Because you used the word "purported" which implies that you find the source to be untrustworthy without any reasonable basic for inferring that.

                            2. re: GH1618

                              FWIW, the document properties show the author as "Nsofor, Obianuju" and a quick google shows that there is a Obianuju Nsofor, Ph.D. in the Division of Plant and Dairy Food Safety, CFSAN, FDA. Of course, I realize that document properties are easily faked, but I don't see why anyone would do that.

                              Having interacted regularly with FDA (other Centers though), this document mystifies me. It doesn't look like an official document. Maybe it's an abstract from Nsofor for a conference presentation? FDA does use conference presentations to convey to the industry their interpretation of regulations and guidances, and their expectations that derive therefrom.

                            3. What I find interesting is that I usually read complaints about a regulatory agency for being too cozy with the businesses they regulate. But here, we have an agency diligently looking after the public interest, yet some people (who I assume are not in the cheesemaking business) object to it.

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: GH1618

                                You know you can never win. In the same industry, like pharma industry, you have people complain FDA being too quick and easy to approve drugs which kill people and you also have people complain FDA being too tough and slow to approve drug to save lives.

                                And often time we are talking about the same drug.

                                1. re: GH1618

                                  For industry coziness, look no further than the former quality control officer of Leprino Foods, a major cheese manufacturer, and her decision to unilaterally interpret this rule to mean no wooden boards.

                                  Don't you always follow the money? Artisan cheesemakers are encroaching on the big manufacturers. What a fantastic way to stop them.

                                  1. re: cheesemonger

                                    She is currently paid by the FDA and my assumption is that she takes her responsibilities as a public servant seriously and is attempting to perform her duties properly. To assert that she is beholden to the large cheesemakers at the expense of small "artisan" producers is a serious charge which calls for evidence. If you haven't got any, it's just a cheap shot.

                                    1. re: GH1618

                                      to assert that she's beholden to industrial manufacturers at the expense of artisanal producers would mean that she is under the same market pressures as have existed in industries around the world for as long as there have been governments and regulations and bureaucrats to unduly influence.

                                      The sky is blue. Regulators can be bought. Statements of nature.

                                      1. re: GH1618

                                        actually it does not call for evidence on the aquiser's part. It does mean she needs to prove many points including association with big business and trade restrictions implied.

                                    2. re: GH1618

                                      How do you know they are looking out for the public interest? Maybe they are looking out for the interests of industrial cheesemakers.

                                    3. Today's article from Reason tees up the issue and provides links to research that would seem to show that the FDA is overreaching.

                                      1. About 100 years ago there were big problems with raw milk and other foods contaminated with toxic bacteria and strict rules were eventually put in place that included pasteurization. But this also killed good bacteria. An over sterilized bacterial environment promotes weight gain. That is a big reason that farmers overuse antibiotics- to fatten up their animals. Lots of research now is showing the link between gut bacteria and metabolism. Humans are animals and a higher percentage of us are obese than in the past. The reasons for this are complex but I believe one reason is our guts are overly sterilized with antibiotics and a sanitized food supply. Better living through science has lots of benefits but it's also made us fatter. This latest cheese regulation is more over reaching regulation to sanitize our food supply. It's unnecessary. There is not an epidemic of people getting sick from eating gourmet cheese aged in contact with wood. My rant is over.

                                        12 Replies
                                        1. re: Ridge

                                          Listeria is not "good" bacteria and it must be eliminated from facilities which produce food. It is the burden of food producers to figure out how to do this so that they will be in compliance.

                                          The FDA does not for an "epidemic" before acting, and should not. That is public policy with the recent passage of strengthened food safety legislation.

                                          1. re: GH1618

                                            There is not a shred of scientific evidence that supports the need to do this. By there rational why not ban use of wooden cutting boards altogether. It's perhaps well meaning but it's overkill and I would be surprised if it has any effect at all on listeria infections in humans.

                                            1. re: GH1618

                                              Listeria is a contaminant and if cheese makers maintain clean conditions and a healthy microbial flora in there cheesemaking areas that can avoid it. Good bacteria colonize the wood and would prevent contaminants like listeria from getting a foothold in cheese cultures. It just doesn't make any sense to penalize all cheese makers for the faults a few bad guys. Enforcing regular and rigorous testing by PCR or another method would be more effective.

                                              1. re: GH1618

                                                Very true Listeria is not good and controlling it is essential in any food production. But simply sterilising the facility or eliminating everything but stainless steel or glass is not the only approach.

                                                The management of the microbiological flora using competing bacteria to exclude pathogenic bacteria is a tried and tested approach and has give rise to many very good food production methods and traditions.

                                                It obviously needs care and expertise and needs to be monitored but draconian, fairly simplistic approaches are not the best solution - although they may be the simplest.

                                                I understood that the mass industrialisation of production was the bigger issue with listeria rather than carefully controlled artisan production. Maybe that is the root of the issue: the FDA has to apply one set of rules to the artisans and to the mega-factories.

                                                The artisan has the time/expertise to control the environment but is governed by rules developed for the factory, developed to control low skilled factory workers.

                                                1. re: PhilD

                                                  I'm not buying that argument and I doubt the FDA will, either. Whatever board the cheesemakers use, they need to demonstrate a process that will eliminate Listeria.

                                                  The "rule" is that facilities that produce food must be clean and sanitary. That rule should apply to all. The statement that wood cannot be sanitized is an interpretation of the rule. If a cheesemaker has a process that will sanitize his wooden boards to the standards required by the FDA, he has a burden to demonstrate its effectiveness. Then the FDA might issue another interpretation that a particular process applied to a particular type of wood meets the standard. It isn't sufficient merely to argue that it should work.

                                                  1. re: GH1618

                                                    I agree with this. My experience is that the FDA is strongly a science-based organization*. If manufacturers can provide the data to justify their approach then FDA will respond favorably. Appeals to tradition are not going to work, except to the extent that tradition = data (and that would need to be justified).

                                                    * Except perhaps at the top political level (with whom I have had no interactions).

                                                    1. re: drongo

                                                      As a scientist I am a strong proponent of science. Too often bureaucracy, egos and dogma trump science in these agencies. In this case the science does not justify these regulations. Can you show me a study that shows that Listeria can effectively colonize wood boards and that this contaminates cheese? If so please point it out to me. There are studies that show that wood inhibits growth of bacterial pathogens:


                                                      There is a study of the microbial ecology of these boards (listeria not found):


                                                      There is a study that shows if you intentionally contaminate boards with listeria they are out competed:


                                                      A study showing most outbreaks of listeria associated with cheese are caused by illegally imported queso fresco from Mexico.

                                                      The FDA found one cheesmaker in NY who used wood boards and whose cheese was contaminated with listeria but they never showed cause and effect.

                                                      If you intentionally inoculate wood boards with concentrated Listeria the boards can be hard to disinfect:


                                                      None of the science justifies the heavy handed new regulations that ban this age old artisan technique. That's truly sad.

                                                      1. re: Ridge

                                                        There are no "heavy handed new regulations", Just the old and familiar regulations (albeit perhaps enforced somewhat more stringently by the agency).

                                                        The producer needs to convince the agency that their process is in control for their specific circumstances. I think there's enough uncertainty to not accept "Can you show me a study that shows that Listeria can effectively colonize wood boards and that this contaminates cheese?". I think the onus is on the producer to demonstrate affirmatively the opposite.

                                                    2. re: GH1618

                                                      GH1618 - its not an argument its fairly basic biological science. If one species occupies an ecological niche (because its adapted to that niche) its very difficult for another species to out compete it and occupy the same niche unless it has a ecological advantage.

                                                      Look at the evidence for this that Ridge supplies. Think about you gut microbiology and how beneficial microbes help exclude pathogens. Think about the natural rind on cheese, its usually a mild that outcompetes and other microbes to form a harmless protective layer. Cheesemakers have exploited these biological principles through tried and trusted methods, methods confirmed by studies etc.

                                                      Food is never risk free, if it was we would lose all sorts of wonderful thing. Getting the balance right is vital - this approach by the FDA seems to be a really good example of getting it absolutely wrong.

                                                      1. re: PhilD

                                                        and weren't we all told several years ago now that wooden cutting boards have a natural ability to combat microorganisms, meaning that they're actually *safer* than plastic boards?

                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                          The reason that they are safer is that plastic boards can take deep cuts which will harbor bacteria. A plastic board which is in goid condition and which is washed at a sufficiently high temperature is completely safe.

                                                          1. re: GH1618

                                                            But wooden cutting boards are no longer taboo because the bacteria levels are kept under control.

                                              2. Bottom line is that if people don't want to eat these cheses they don't have to. No sense in not allowing anyone to buy or sell them. Wouldn't a warning suffice? Something like the warnings on menus about consuming raw or undercooked ingredients.

                                                  1. re: GH1618

                                                    I wouldn't say clarification. I think its a confusing statement which really doesn't say one thing or another - probably deliberate because they probably want to maintain the status quo without saying so.

                                                    1. re: PhilD

                                                      Actually, it confirms precisely what I have written on this subject — that the FDA is not about to take enforcement action against cheesemakers unless there is an actual problem. It also confirms that they will be satisfied with a demonstration that a food producer's process conforms to sanitary standards.

                                                      1. re: GH1618

                                                        I think you need to read it more carefully. It says "no new legislation" and " has never taken any action" so past tense. It doesn't mention its future actions at all apart from being open to evidence.

                                                        1. re: PhilD

                                                          There's always an element of uncertainty in the future. Clearly, the FDA cannot make promises about the future, but can only explain their current policy. As for legislation, that is up to the Congress.

                                                          The people who are worked up about this remind me of Chicken Little.

                                                          1. re: GH1618

                                                            Funny, it looks to me like the FDA is the chicken little in this situation.

                                                            1. re: Ridge

                                                              The FDA has only taken enforcement action against cheese makers when actual contamination has been found. In some cases, such as the one I quoted from above, there have been repeated violations.

                                                              It is not a false alarm when the contamination about which the FDA is concerned actually exists, so the analogy doesn't apply. You should find a more fitting one.

                                                              1. re: GH1618

                                                                A big study into cases of listeria contamination in cheese found the major source was Queso fresco illegally imported from Mexico. Why not focus on that problem instead of making a big stink about wooden boards? In any case they realize their over reaction and are backtracking and it will be forgotten about so it's a non issue at this point.

                                                                1. re: Ridge

                                                                  That's a false choice. For one thing, the FDA is concerned about contaminated imported food, and is better able to deal with that problem under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). That doesn't mean that they should ease up on enforcement of the requirement that domestic food production facilities by sanitary.

                                                                  The FDA has not backtracked on the cheese board matter. They have clarified their policy, because some people were jumping to false conclusions.

                                                                  1. re: GH1618

                                                                    So why are you against letting these types of cheese be sold in the US?
                                                                    Are you worried about people getting sick without knowing it is a possibility (slim to none)?
                                                                    Or are you worried about them potentially getting sick and costing taxpayers money? Lost productivity?

                                                                    Why are you so against letting people eat what they want to eat (even if it theoretically has a warning)

                                                                    Ya, I'm pissed, you don't want me to be able to eat delicious cheeses, you want to decide things for other people. WTF

                                                                    1. re: EatFoodGetMoney

                                                                      I'm not. I love cheese, including some types that are aged on wooden boards.

                                                            2. re: GH1618

                                                              My concern would stem from the fact the original statement from Monica Metz was not really retracted and they simply gave fairly bland PR assurances nothing had changed. I used to write similar statements and I can tell they have used very open language that can mean many things.

                                                              One of the issues with "Health & Safety" agencies is that they always get back to the "prove its safe" mantra - and the FDA has done that in this case.

                                                              Proof that something is safe is near impossible and is a far tougher test than to prove something is unsafe. If these agencies adopted the "unsafe" test as a standard I would be happier - although the thought of a LD50 test for cheese is an interesting concept...!

                                                              I have not searched for this, but I suspect as others have pointed out, that food safety issues with cheese are caused by ignoring safety guidelines/regulations, bad practice, and short cuts. Not by anything inherent to the production method like wooden maturation boards.

                                                              So the "prove its safe" stance seems to be counter intuitive and may, as others have pointed out, and has been seen in other countries, an approach encouraged by the big factory dairy companies (rather like the un-pastuerised cheese debate).

                                                              1. re: PhilD

                                                                If you expected the FDA to announce that they do not intend to enforce the regulation requiring sanitary facilities for the production of food sold in interstate commerce, or that cheesemakers deserve some special exemption from the law, then I have to wonder what planet you are from.

                                                                I have read everything I can on the subject, and I am unable to find any fault with the FDA in how they have handled this matter, and have not seen any documentation of any enforcement action from the FDA which was not warranted.

                                                                What unpasteurized cheese debate? In the US, cheese can be made from unpasteurized milk under certain conditions.

                                                                1. re: GH1618

                                                                  Ref unpasteurised cheese - I thought FDA regulations stipulated it needed to be 6o days old before it was sold? Correct me if I am wrong. But if that is true case it excludes a lot of great fresh soft cheese.

                                                                  And on your first point it gets back to the definition of "sanitary". If the quotes from Monica Metz are correct (and they have not be retracted) then the FDA is defining wooden boards as unsanitary. There seems to be little to show in the normal use of these boards there is an issue so why define them as risky to start with?

                                                                  Maybe you could answer that specific question.

                                                                  1. re: PhilD

                                                                    The FDA has done testing and found that they were unable to reliably eliminate Listeria from wooden boards. They took enforcemant actions against cheesemakers who had actual Listeria contamination which they could not or did not correct. Ms. Metz' letter was based on that experience.

                                                                    1. re: GH1618

                                                                      the FDA has been unable to remove listeria from cantaloupe.

                                                                      Let's outlaw those, too.

                                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                                        It isn't the responsibility of the FDA to remove Listeria from cantaloupe. They have identified the problem and advised food producers and consumers how to control Listeria. The cantaloupe were recalled, not outlawed. They were making people sick. This is precisely why we have the FDA.

                                                                        Does anyone actually believe that we should not have an agency charged with trying to keep pathogens out of our food supply? I suspect most Americans are in favor of the work the FDA does, because the Food Safety Modernization Act, which strengthens the powers of the FDA, passed Congress by a margin of about two to one.

                                                                        1. re: GH1618

                                                                          totally agree there needs to be an agency.

                                                                          Vehemently disagree that they need to be futzing around with food-production methods for purely financial reasons, and vehement disagree that they should outlaw the way things have been made for centuries and that millions of people safely consume every single day.

                                                                          Bottom line is that the US has FIVE TIMES the per-capita rate of foodborne illness of Europe. Perhaps we should shut up and take lessons from people who've been doing this for thousands of years before we even existed as a nation

                                                                          Maybe, just maybe, they've learned something across the centuries.

                                                                      2. re: GH1618

                                                                        Back to the "if its not 100% safe its unsafe" argument. The paper provided earlier found this was the case in boards artificually inoculated with Listeria. However, there are papers that demonstrate other bacteria and the wood itself inhibits Listeria.

                                                                        Do you really know if the Metz letter was based on a number of cases or the theoretical tests? If it was on a few cases of poor practice it is extremely worrying that she has extrapolated this for the whole industry.

                                                                    2. re: GH1618

                                                                      under certain conditions that make the rest of the planet, who have been eating raw-milk cheeses for longer than this country has existed, laugh their asses off at the stupidity, downright ignorance, and germophobic Americans.

                                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                                        Don't worry we have the same regulated lunacy in Australia where just about all unpasteurised cheese is banned from production and export.

                                                                        There is lots of speculation that the big dairy companies like it this way (and use their influence to keep it this way) as its far easier/cheaper for them to control the production process using pasteurised milk. If small producers were allowed to produce better cheese, and importers could bring in European cheese then their market position would really suffer.

                                                                        For a country that produces so many dairy products its a shame the local cheese industry is so handicapped.

                                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                                          Canada is even more restrictive than the United States on the sale of raw milk, and the European Union is concerned about the increased prevalence of Listeria and is monitoring the situation, even for cheese. You don't have to be American to believe in modern sanitation.


                                                                          1. re: GH1618

                                                                            .....and in the summary of the paper it states the number of listeria infections over the threshold for soft and semi soft cheese was "rare". It seems fish was a bigger concern and meat after that.

                                                                              1. re: GH1618

                                                                                Good - so not really an issue in cheese then - why has the FDA got its knickers in a knot?

                                                                                1. re: PhilD

                                                                                  The FDA does not bring enforcement actions based on European statistics or merely from statistics anywhere. If you will read the excerpt from one of the enforcement actions which started this controversy which I posted near the start of this thread, you will see that the FDA found Listeria in a cheese producing facility, ordered the operator to clean it up, and they failed to do so.

                                                                                  What would you do? Tolerate Listeria in food? Tolerate any other serious pathogens in food? Abolish the FDA and food safety regulation generally?

                                                                                  1. re: GH1618

                                                                                    There's a whole lotta light between stepping back from traditional food-production methods and abolishing the FDA.

                                                                                    Listeria occurs in nature. There's no way to eliminate it -- and there's sure as heck no way to legislate it out of existence.

                                                                                    1. re: GH1618

                                                                                      But is that case related to the recent enforcement action which I understood to be based on routine inspections?

                                                                                      The case you cite justifiably had the appropriate action taken. But that is a big jump to automatically classifying all wooden boards as unhygienic.

                                                                                      No one is arguing we don't need standards. No one argues we don't need enforcement. No one argues poor process and non-adherence to standards should be stopped.

                                                                                      But what we do argue is that perfectly safe methods, used by responsible manufacturers, are not targeted for rather spurious reasons.

                                                                                      1. re: PhilD

                                                                                        The case from which I quoted is one of a few cases in New York which led someone in New York to make an inquiry which prompted the letter from Ms. Metz. The FDA has since clarified its policy because of the controversy stirred up by the Metz letter.

                                                                                        I'm satisfied with the FDA's clarification and will wait to see what comes of it. Others may not be satisfied with it and will continue to try to make something of it. Such is life.

                                                            3. Reporting this afternoon by AP:

                                                              ". . . In a statement issued Tuesday, however, the FDA seemed to backtrack on the stance. It noted that it hasn't taken any enforcement action based solely on the use of wood shelves. And while it said it has expressed concern about whether wood can be adequately cleaned, it added that it is 'always open to evidence that shows that wood can be safely used for specific purposes, such as aging cheese.'

                                                              The FDA said it will engage with the artisanal cheesemaking community to determine whether certain types of cheese can be safely made by aging them on wood shelves.

                                                              When asked what that process would entail, FDA spokeswoman Lauren Sucher said in an email that the agency 'can't speculate on immediate next steps.' . . "


                                                                1. re: jpr54_1

                                                                  Thanks for that link. It linked up with this blog post by Gordon Edgar, one of San Francisco's leading cheesemongers.

                                                                2. Can I ask where the heck were all you people when we have been doing COTM??? If the next COTM is about cheese aged on wood boards will you participate?

                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                      1. re: Ridge

                                                                        There was lots of good and sometimes heated discussion in this thread and I now encourage everyone who participated in the discussion, no matter what side you were on, to participate in July's Cheese of the month (COTM). This month the featured cheeses are cheeses aged on wooden boards. It will be fun for us all to taste these cheeses together. This month the featured cheeses are cheeses aged on wooden boards. The way it works is that people taste a cheese and then describe it in as much detail as you have the energy to. Where did you get the cheese? How much did it cost? What does it taste like (flavor, mouthfeel)? Do you like it? Why? Would you recommend it? Would you buy it again? You can look at past COTMs here:


                                                                        Here is a link to this months COTM:


                                                                        1. Here's a follow-up article from Forbes:


                                                                          I have to say that I agree with commenter Marshall Manson, who said:
                                                                          "I wish I was as optimistic as the headline writer. The issue stems from a finding following an inspection, and relies on current regulation. The quotes from the FDA make it clear that they are not walking away from the current regs or backing off their inspection finding. They are also saying that they still believe wood boards are fundamentally unclean. it’s a nicely written statement, but it’s classic bureaucrat-speak. It kicks the can down the road, doesn’t commit the FDA to anything, doesn’t acknowledge any mistake on their part, and doesn’t alter their position at all."

                                                                          Basically, they're saying, hey, we never said we banned wooden boards. We just have a rule that bans anything that doesn't meet specific sanitary standards, and we don't believe (although we might be convinced) that wood meets those sanitary standards.

                                                                            1. I'm remembering the old "Untouchables" television show and imagining the FDA busting into a cheese warehouse with axes and Tommy guns like Eliot Ness and his team, and hacking the wooden cheese aging boards to pieces. I don't think it will come to that, however.

                                                                                1. re: jpr54_1

                                                                                  Most surprising info in that link: Idaho is one of the top three cheesemaking states?

                                                                                2. I'm taking no sides in this interesting debate but since I am not knowledgeable about cheese making, I would like some clarifying information.

                                                                                  1) What does aging cheeses on wood contribute to the final product? Residual bacteria that start the curing process? Allowing air to reach the rind through the pores?

                                                                                  2) Is there any way to clean the wooden boards so as to remove any harmful contaminants without destroying their use as an aging platform?

                                                                                  3) Is there any way to age cheeses on some other inert material that would have the same effect as wood?

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: DonShirer

                                                                                    The FDA has effectively said "Oh, never mind"


                                                                                    The article includes a quote that explains why wooden boards are used in the aging process.