Real Raw Milk Facts

FDA And Raw Milk Cheese

William Weir of the The Hartford Courant published an update on the status of raw milk cheeses and concerns expressed by Connecticut Farmers about possible changes in the aging rule being considered by FDA.

Cato Corner Farm

(STEPHEN DUNN, Hartford Courant / May 31, 2011)

At Sankow Beaver Brook Farm in Lyme, Suzanne Sankow talks about the different aging processes for her cheeses.

Some like the Nehantic Abbey Cheese made with Jersey cow’s milk, is aged for at least six months. That’s what gives it a sharp flavor. But others, like a Pyrenees mountain cheese, can’t be aged for more than two months.

“It has more whey in it as it’s pressed, and it’s very gently treated,” she said. “As it ages, it dries out more and you come to an area where it’s nice and moist. If you wait to three or four months, it begins to dry, and it doesn’t have the bite you need.”

Like others who produce raw milk cheese, Sankow fears that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

could take that bite out of her product.

Citing a number of outbreaks of food-borne diseases in raw milk cheese, the FDA is reviewing whether the current 60-day aging requirement is sufficient to kill off the pathogens in the cheese.

Raw milk cheese is any cheese made with unpasteurized milk, and in the U.S., small independent businesses make most of the raw milk cheese on the market. Raw milk cheeses generally sell for prices significantly higher than the average pasteurized cheese, but fans say it’s worth it: Other cheeses don’t offer the same textures and rich flavors.

At the FDA, Siobhan DeLancey stresses that no changes are being made at this time. A committee of the FDA has drafted a report, which will be published before the end of the year, at which point it will be open to public comment.

“Basically, we could find that the 60-day rule is sufficient time for pathogens to die,” she said, “or we could find that it’s not sufficient and then decide where to go from there.”

She said the 60-day rule is “something that evolved out of tradition” and doesn’t have a lot of science backing it up.

“First, we want to get a good understanding of the science behind [the aging process of cheese],” she said. “The 60-day rule has been in place since the 1940s and is not really science-based. It’s more ‘This is the way we’ve always done it.’ ”

According to a recent article in Food Poison Journal, the 60-day requirement in the U.S. likely goes back to a 1946 experiment on aging cheese, plus data from experiments in Canada that found that Salmonella typhi — the pathogen that causes typhoid — survived a 30-day aging process, but not periods of 48 days or 63.

Read more about the 60-day raw milk cheese aging rule here.

Read the full story in The Hartford Courant here.

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