FDA Promises To Work With Cheesemakers On Safety Of Using Wood Ripening Boards

Earlier this week, cheesemakers across the country seemed to be collectively freaking out over the Food and Drug Administration’s announcement that it wasn’t cool with cheese ripened on wooden boards, saying the bacteria in the boards could be a potential a food safety issue. Now the agency is clarifying its stance in an apparent attempt to quell that freakout.

The FDA issued a statement on the cheese kerfuffle, noting that there’s no “new policy” that bans wooden shelves outright in cheese-making, and it’s not about to go after anyone who uses such boards to age cheese.

Via the blog Cheese Underground (because clearly a blog of that name is going to have the lowdown [and it’s based in Wisconsin, where the cheese buffalos would roam free if they existed]), the FDA’s new statement reads in full:

“The FDA does not have a new policy banning the use of wooden shelves in cheese-making, nor is there any FSMA requirement in effect that addresses this issue. Moreover, the FDA has not taken any enforcement action based solely on the use of wooden shelves.

In the interest of public health, the FDA’s current regulations state that utensils and other surfaces that contact food must be “adequately cleanable” and properly maintained. Historically, the FDA has expressed concern about whether wood meets this requirement and has noted these concerns in inspectional findings. FDA is always open to evidence that shows that wood can be safely used for specific purposes, such as aging cheese.”

The FDA will engage with the artisanal cheese-making community to determine whether certain types of cheeses can safely be made by aging them on wooden shelving.”

That’s likely good news for the cheese community that has rallied to the cause of artisanal cheesemaking, including those who not only make the products, but those who well them.

Tracy Kellner, who co-owns two shops under the name Provenance Food & Wine in Chicago with her husband, tells Consumerist that the FDA is barking up the wrong cheese tree with this particular issue.

“There are so many truly harmful things about our food system that the FDA seems to be pretty slow to correct: almost daily recalls of processed prepared foods, antibiotic use, CAFOs [Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations], even GMOs,” Kellner says. “Our food system is broken, yes. But don’t go after the cheesemakers who work diligently to make better food — come down harder on the guys who knowingly poison our food system with contaminated peanuts, cantaloupe, eggs and meat.”

FDA Further “Clarifies” Stance on Aging Cheese on Wooden Boards [Cheese Underground]