The heat is on—or maybe off is more accurate—for the raw milk cheese world following the latest statement from the FDA.
Early last week the FDA announced they are pausing the testing program for non-toxigenic E. coli in cheeses while they reconsider the safety criteria used to determine healthy, sanitary production conditions. (Read: big deal for raw milk cheese!)
“We will be taking another look at what role non-toxigenic E. coli should have in identifying and preventing insanitary conditions and food safety hazards for both domestic and foreign cheese producers.
The FDA will also consider and update, as appropriate, the 2010 Compliance Policy Guide, which outlines safety criteria. Any changes will be informed by our engagement with stakeholders and experts on such issues as the use of a single bacterial criterion for both pasteurized and raw milk cheese, and the use of non-toxigenic E. coli as an indicator organism.
The agency will continue to inspect cheese-making facilities and test for pathogens in domestic and imported cheese but, in the meantime, FDA is in the process of pausing its testing program for non-toxigenic E. coli in cheese.”
On top of this change in regulation, the FDA also makes specific references to working with cheesemakers, government partners, and other experts to ensure “the right science-based, prevention-oriented standards and safety criteria are in place.”—a new stance, appreciated by all makers and consumers that actively voiced concerns a few months back.
But as was the case then, this is not the end.
On February 12, American Cheese Society President Dick Roe and Executive Director Nora Weiser joined seven raw milk cheesemakers in Washington, D.C., for a Listening Session with the FDA.
The Listening Session gave Michael Taylor, Deputy Director for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, and his FDA colleagues the opportunity to sit face-to-face with producers to understand their stories, businesses and impacts of raw milk cheese regulations.
Makers scheduled for the session included
- Gianaclis Caldwell, Pholia Farm Creamery and Dairy (Oregon)
- Lynn Giacomini Stray, Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese (California)
- Andy Hatch, Uplands Cheese Company (Wisconsin)
- Mateo Kehler, Jasper Hill Farm (Vermont)
- Jeremy Little, Sweet Grass Dairy (Georgia)
- Marieke Penterman, Holland’s Family Cheese (Wisconsin)
- Jeremy Stephenson, Spring Brook Farm and Farms for City Kids Foundation (Vermont)
As the American Cheese Society notes, the next step for the FDA and raw milk cheesemakers is to draw up the precise kinds of “preventive controls” and testing necessary to consistently release sanitary raw milk cheeses without resorting to a blanket ban.
Stay tuned for updates!