The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is issuing food safety recommendations for those who may be impacted due to Hurricane Joaquin.
On Thursday afternoon, the National Weather Service announced Hurricane Joaquin as a Category 4 hurricane in Central and Northwest Bahamas. The Hurricane is expected to move into the United States during the next couple of days. Some strengthening during the next day or so is forecast, with some fluctuations in intensity possible on Friday. The storm’s impact will become clearer as the week progresses.
A hurricane watch for the East Coast of the U.S. could be required as early as tonight and into the weekend. Residents along the East Coast should pay close attention to the forecast now through this weekend. Be aware that flooding from heavy rain, damaging winds, and tidal flooding will be possible. These types of weather forecasts present the possibility of power outages that could compromise the safety of stored food. Significant flood is also possible from this and other weather systems that will be impacting the East Coast though next week. Flooding is possible from South Carolina through Massachusetts, including North Carolina, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
FSIS recommends that consumers take the following steps to reduce food waste and the risk of foodborne illness during severe weather events.
Steps to follow in advance of losing power:
Steps to follow if the power goes out:
Steps to follow after a weather emergency:
Food Safety After a Flood
The FoodSafety.gov, has compiled a list of what foods should be discarded if a refrigerator has been held at a temperature above 40 °F for more than two hours:
Refrigerated perishable foods that should be discarded:
The world of food is inevitably connected to everything from agricultural, legislative and environmental issues to health and nutrition, entertaining and the art of dining. As the culinary landscape continues to expand, the cooking and dining experience is rapidly evolving as well.
The Next Big Bite is a panel discussion featuring culinary experts who will explore the vital role that food plays in the lives of consumers and address the topic, “What You will Cook, Eat and Crave in 2016.” Sponsored by Les Dames d’Escoffier New York (LDNY), the preeminent professional women’s culinary organization, this first annual event will be held on October 26th from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM at the newly located Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), 225 Liberty Street at Brookfield Place in New York City. Doors open at 6:00 PM.
This must-attend event is open to the general public. Authoritative panelists guided by a renowned moderator will share their knowledge of the ever-changing food landscape and offer a glimpse of what to expect in the coming year. Moderated by Rozanne Gold, four-time James Beard Award-winning author, chef and journalist, The Next Big Bite will include panelists: Amanda Cohen, chef/owner, Dirt Candy; Amanda Hesser, co-founder/CEO, Food52; Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University; and Mimi Sheraton, pioneering food journalist and restaurant critic.
Moderator Rozanne Gold will touch on some provocative topics, such as, “What is the intersection of health and gastronomy? How is technology changing our industry? Who are the cutting-edge game changers, and why do trends matter?” For her—and the audience—the deeper question will be: “In a world where people experience life in the palm of their hand, snapping a photo of every dish before they put it into their mouth, how do we redefine pleasure and expectation?”
Event sponsors include the Institute of Culinary Education, Abigail Kirsch Catering, Cuisinart, elit by Stolichnaya, The Winebow Group, Wüsthof and Heritage Radio.
Les Dames d’Escoffier New York (LDNY)
Les Dames d’Escoffier New York is the largest chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International (LDEI). There are currently 36 chapters in the U.S., Canada, UK and Mexico with over 2,000 members.
ALDI announced that it has removed certified synthetic colors, removed partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) and removed added MSG from all of its exclusive brand food products. This announcement is part of the company’s efforts to expand store offerings and address customers’ preferences and needs about particular ingredients in their food. With 90 percent of ALDI products being sold under private labels, ALDI is able to ensure that customers have a wide selection of options free of these ingredients and available at the low prices the grocer is known for.
“At ALDI, we are dedicated to the well-being of our customers by providing high quality groceries at the lowest possible prices and offering foods shoppers can feel good about serving their families,” said Jason Hart, CEO, ALDI. “Our decision to remove these ingredients from all of our exclusive brand foods delivers on our ongoing commitment to meet the evolving preferences of our customers. Since more than 90 percent of the products we sell are under our exclusive brands, eliminating these ingredients will have a real impact on the over 30 million people who shop in our stores.”
“Today’s shoppers are more involved with food than ever before. They want to know everything about their food and the companies that supply them – especially as it relates to ingredients and the impact on their families,” said Phil Lempert, editor of SupermarketGuru.com and food industry analyst. “ALDI is leading the supermarket industry in rightly responding to the science that shows the implications of these ingredients, and meeting the needs of the increasingly savvy consumers who don’t want artificial or potentially harmful ingredients in the products they buy.”
As a retailer focused on private label brands, ALDI continues to take a leading role in responding to consumer demand by removing these ingredients from the vast majority of their products. The company began removing these ingredients in 2014, and customers will begin to see these products in stores this fall, with all reformulated product lines in stores by the end of 2015.
By Lorrie Baumann
Cheese is complicated, which is one of the things that Liam Callahan, the cheesemaker at Bellwether Farms, likes about it. “These are my cheeses. I feel like I have license to change them. If it interests me, I can do that,” he says. “I don’t want to do anything that’s less good; everything is in an effort to improve them. I still find that challenging.”
He won a sofi Award last year for his Whole Milk Ricotta and another sofi Award this year for his Blackberry Sheep Milk Yogurt. His Fromage Blanc took a second place award at this year’s American Cheese Society Awards. That’s another thing he likes about his business: “After all these years of Fancy Food Shows and several times being finalists…. It feels good that people still respond to it, that they like the packaging,” he says. “I still get satisfaction from that kind of recognition. I take it with a grain of salt, but it’s great to get some recognition.”
Callahan grew up in San Francisco and didn’t become a farm boy until after he was in college, when his mother, Cindy Callahan, won a long-running argument with his father, a physician, about getting out of the city. “Once we were out of school, she managed to win the tug of war,” he says. They found Bellwether Farms, a 34-acre property within commuting distance from the city, and it didn’t take them long to decide that they were going to need some animals to eat all that grass. “By the end of the first summer, the grass was over six feet tall,” Callahan says.
Then, three years in, the family had about 100 sheep grazing on the farm when a visitor from the Middle East remarked that they could be milking them. “Everyone in the Middle East that has sheep are milking them,” he told the family, as Callahan recalls. “We thought it was a crazy idea at first. We never realized that some of our favorite cheeses were sheep’s milk cheeses. We had never looked beyond the wedge of cheese.”
That question came up as Callahan was finishing school in the spring of 1990, and Cindy asked her son if he thought he might like to learn how to make cheese. “It sounded interesting, sounded challenging. I was able to see something for the work I had done. I felt like I was working with and for the family, which was unusual at the time,” he says. “Once we started it, there was so much to learn. It appealed to me because I’ve always had a scientific analytical side, but there’s a lot of it that’s beyond analysis…. It’s amazing – you never can know it all in this.”
The FDA’s recent heightened scrutiny of raw milk cheeses is one of many issues that’s making it harder to make good sheep milk cheeses these days, Callahan says. “That’s something that adds to the cost of doing business: recordkeeping, additional lab work,” he says. “It’s an expensive move for a HACCP program to be implemented and maintained. That’s really tough for the smaller people. It’s tough for everyone. When you’re a one-person or a two-person operation, it takes a full-time person to be the liaison to the regulatory side of the industry.”
He points to current uncertainties surrounding how cheesemaking is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that are frustrating him. Most of the code under which his operation is regulated is subjective, he says. “The key phrase is ‘in a sanitary method’ or ‘well-maintained,’ and there have been differing opinions of what that means,” he says, citing last year’s controversy over aging cheese on wood boards as an example.
While it’s possible to almost completely eliminate the risks of consuming cheese, that would come at a price, according to Callahan. “Somewhere at the back of everybody’s mind, we’re worried that that’s where it’s going to go. For a lot of products, it wouldn’t do good things to the product,” he says. “It’s like fresh fish versus canned fish or a smoked fish versus canned fish. They’re both preserved, but by taking it to a further step with the canning, you completely change it. It’s no longer the artisan, traditional smoked fish. It’s the same thing for cheeses.”
Those uncertainties and the greater scrutiny that’s being directed at raw milk cheeses may end Bellwether Farms’ production of raw milk cheeses, Callahan says. “People like our raw milk cheeses, and we can’t meet the demand for them, but they are growing at a slower pace than our other products, and as it grows to be a smaller part of what you do, you start asking yourself if the risk, you start thinking about whether you’re going to have a problem,” he says. “Raw milk cheeses present a bigger risk, and it impacts everything you do because people hear that. It damages the brand.”
Twenty Kroger associates and eight Murray’s Cheese associates have been named Certified Cheese Professionals[TM] by the American Cheese Society.
This breaks both company’s previous records of 13 Kroger associates and four Murray’s Cheese associates who achieved the ultimate in cheese recognition last year. There are now 52 Certified Cheese Professionals in the Kroger and Murray’s family.
This year, all 28 associates have joined the ranks of an elite group of individuals who have passed the Certified Cheese Professional Exam. The exam was created by the American Cheese Society to promote the large and comprehensive world of cheeses and encourage food industry professionals to master the knowledge.
“We are not only proud of these distinguished individuals and their professional achievement, but also of the industry’s adoption of the ACS CCP designation as the standard for cheese professionals,” says Nora Weiser, Executive Director of the American Cheese Society. “The entire cheese industry – from cheesemaker to consumer – benefits from the understanding, education, and professionalism of ACS CCPs. They are a testament to the growth, quality, and passion of today’s American cheese scene.”
Passing the American Cheese Society’s CCP exam is no small feat. Before being allowed to sit for the exam, cheese people must have 4,000 hours of work and/or formal education in the cheese-field under their belt.
“When I started on the counter at Murray’s 25 years ago, the job of cheesemonger didn’t formally exist,” said Rob Kaufelt, Murray’s Owner and President. “And if it did, it was certainly not at the level of a chef or sommelier. That is, we were not a profession at all back then. Now I’m proud to say that Murray’s, with the help of the ACS and Kroger, is well on its way to establishing a proud, new, traditional line of work in the food industry. We are leading the country toward a new and respected profession with a formal certificate of recognition.”
Through an exclusive partnership with New York City’s Murray’s Cheese, the Kroger family of stores features 210 Murray’s counters in stores from coast-to-coast. Featuring more than 175 cheeses and specialty goods from all over the world, the Murray’s counters are staffed by associates who have been trained by the Murray’s experts in New York. For a list of Murray’s in Kroger locations, visit www.murrayscheese.com/locations.
For two decades, Publix Super Markets, Inc. has worked alongside the March of Dimes to give all babies a healthy start in life. This year, during their annual three week in-store March for Babies fundraising campaign, Publix customers and associates raised $6,050,470, an18 percent increase from 2014, bringing their 20 year total to an impressive contribution of $57 million for stronger, healthier babies.
“We are thankful for the opportunity to partner with the March of Dimes, an organization whose mission is at the heart of every expectant parent, sibling, family member and friend,” said Maria Brous, Publix Director of Media and Community Relations. “It is our largest-grossing customer-facing campaign, and associate involvement peaks every spring when our own lace up their sneakers and walk for someone they love. We raise awareness within the communities we serve through passionate associates engaging the hearts and minds of our customers.”
“We are grateful to Publix, their associates, and customers for supporting the March of Dimes for two decades so that we can give a fighting chance to every baby,” said Julie Laird, March of Dimes East Region Vice President. “They are a national leader among our corporate teams, and with their support, Publix is helping the March of Dimes raise awareness of the urgent crisis of premature birth, which effects 1 in 10 babies in the United States.”
Since Publix joined the March of Dimes in 1995, there has been many great successes. In the 1990s, March of Dimes launched a National Folic Acid Campaign to prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spine known as neural tube defects. In 1998, the Food and Drug Administration mandated folic acid fortification of our nation’s grain foods. Within a few short years, our country was able reduce the number of these birth defects by 20 to 30 percent. In 2003, after more than 30 years of increasing rates of premature birth in the United States, the March of Dimes launched its Prematurity Campaign to confront this alarming trend. After years of March of Dimes advocacy, by 2008, all states had begun to require screening of all newborns for 21 or more serious but treatable conditions immediately after birth. In 2013, the U.S. premature birth rate dropped to a 15-year low, saving thousands of babies from death or disability and billions in health care costs. And in 2015, March of Dimes opened its fifth Prematurity Research Center in Chicago, part of a network of centers pioneering a team science approach that brings together scientists from a wide array of fields to find the unknown causes of preterm birth.
By Richard Thompson
Nomoo Cookies has a line of non-dairy cookies on the market for customers who want their sweets, but can’t have – or don’t want – the milk. The company’s brand of snacks use kosher, dairy-free ingredients that the entire family can enjoy. Nomoo Cookies has added new varieties like pineapple and raspberry to traditional favorites such as chocolate chip. While certain cookies may still contain soy, eggs, wheat and nuts, the entire product line is free from any dairy product, making it perfect for those with dairy allergies, are lactose intolerant or looking to keep a kosher diet, according to Gretchen Dossa, General Manager of Nomoo Cookie Company.
Dossa spent years relying on kosher certifications to find safe products for her daughter who suffered a severe dairy-allergy – since those certifications indicated the presence of dairy – to make dairy free, kosher meals. David Bader, who co-founded Nomoo Cookies, spent years making cookies for his family and friends, but noticed many who were following kosher diets unable to enjoy his chocolate cookies. After sharing their frustrations on the lack of non-dairy products available, Bader and Dossa partnered to create Nomoo Cookies.
The company’s kosher-certified, dairy-free line of cookies are all natural and made without preservatives, hydrogenated trans fats or artificial flavors. Offered for retail in single and double packs, as well as by the dozen to consumers, The Nomoo Cookie Company strives to use local ingredients to make snacks that are as close to home baked cookies as possible.
“We are looking for flavors that are fun and interesting for everyone,” says Dossa.
While Big Chipper, with its Belgian chocolate chips, oatmeal and touch of caramel, and Oat-rageous, made with sweet dates, tangy orange zest and rich molasses, offer customers a non-dairy take on traditional staples, new varieties offer a wider range of exotic tastes.
The company’s Almond-Oy is loaded with wholesome almonds, chunks of dark chocolate and shredded coconut, while the Ginger Slap Cookie, a delicious snack that delivers a zing of crystallized ginger, won the Best New Baked Good Award at Kosher Fest in 2014.
In addition to the company’s main line of cookies, each year Nomoo Cookies makes a limited edition cookie that incorporates dried fruit inclusions. Last year, the popular Just Peachy cookie made waves with its soft color and great taste and has been succeeded this year with the Flying Hawaiian with Pineapple, which is made with chewy coconut and bits of pineapple. Currently, the company is working on a new spice cookie that can be considered a non-dairy snickerdoodle, a vanilla-bean sugar cookie made with dried vanilla bean and bean paste and a few vegan cookies.
“Our Flying Hawaiian with Pineapple has gotten a lot of praise,” says Dossa, “Right now, we’re working on getting local raspberries on top of our sugar cookies; that will probably be coming out in a couple of months…When we make cookies, we want people to think they’re really good even if they don’t need to avoid dairy,”
By Lorrie Baumann
In 1865, Samuel L. Clemens was living in San Francisco, writing articles for newspapers and wondering if he had any shot at a career as a humorist. He was also apparently drinking quite a lot, which means that there actually is some chance that he tasted the Breakfast Cheese made by Jefferson Thompson, who founded his west Marin County dairy farm that year. He sold the cheese he made in the creamery that would eventually become known as Marin French Cheese to San Francisco saloons who sold it to their customers.
No, Marin French Cheese’s official history doesn’t document any consumption by the writer who’s best known today as Mark Twain, but there’s no way to prove it didn’t happen, after all. What we do know is that Thompson launched his Thompson Brothers Creamery in 1865 on a 700-acre dairy ranch that’s now known as Hicks Valley Ranch near Petaluma, California. He sent his Thompson cheese by horse and wagon and then by boat to San Francisco’s saloons, where dock workers began calling it “Breakfast Cheese.”
Thompson’s two sons, Jeff Thompson, Junior and Rudolph Thompson, took over the creamery in the early 20th century, and Jeff, Jr. traveled to Connecticut to learn to make European styles such as Camembert, Brie and Neufchatel. He branded his French-style cheese Rouge et Noir, French for “Red and Black.”
In the 1990s, Marin French Cheese was acquired by cattle rancher and real estate developer Jim Boyce, who modernized the cheese plant and expanded distribution of the Marin French cheeses. In 2005, Marin French Cheese achieved distinction as the first U.S. company to be awarded Gold in a European competition for Triple Crème Brie, besting the French in that category. The 2014 World Cheese Awards in London honored Marin French Triple Crème Brie cheeses with three out of four awards in the soft-ripened category, awarding a Super Gold to a new cheese, Supreme. Following that win, the company’s legacy cheese, Petite Breakfast, was selected as a winner in the 2015 Good Food Awards, recognizing authentic and responsibly produced food.
After Boyce’s untimely death in 2010, Marin French Cheese was acquired by The Rians Group of France, which has since modernized the creamery with state-of-the-art equipment and aging rooms, new packaging with redesigned labels and an expansion of the retail shop on the creamery property. This year, Marin French Cheese is celebrating its 150th anniversary with a year-long schedule of celebratory events that pay tribute to the company that is the longest continuously operating cheese company in the United States.
Rians, a French company that specializes in farmstead cheeses with European AOC and AOP identities, bought Marin French Cheese with the knowledge that the company operates in a very environmentally conscious community and saw a fit that matched Rians’ environmental ethics and respect for the places in which its cheeses are created, said Eva Guilmo, Quality and Food Safety Manager for both Marin French Cheese and Laura Chenel’s Chevre, which was acquired by Rians in 2006. “Rians Group is built on having many small creameries that have terroir and a close relationship with their environment,” she said.
Like Laura Chenel’s Chevre, where Rians built a new creamery from the ground up that incorporates modern technology to save both energy and water, Marin French Cheese is adapting its operations to modernize and to save water, said Miguel Da Conceicao, Site Manager for Laura Chenel’s Chevre. He arrived in California three years ago after transferring from a Rians goat cheese plant in France. “Every year we are doing things. That’s why in three years, we have saved 30 to 35 percent of the water compared to what we used when we started this plant [at Laura Chenel’s Chevre],” he said. “We haven’t waited until California was in crisis to start doing things.”
“Proactivity is the word, always, and we want to stick to that,” Guilmo added
Marin French Cheese gets its water from natural ponds on the property that are fed from snowmelt and rain, although it hasn’t snowed here since 1990. “Each year, after the winter, we look at our ponds and we manage from that,” said Amelie Curis, Site Manager for Marin French Cheese. “I think it will be okay for this year. We should be okay for the next two years.”
As it modernizes its operations, the company is working closely with the federal Food and Drug Administration as well as state regulators, Guilmo said. “We’re working on the design of the machines to ensure that they comply with the rules and even go beyond them in terms of standards of cleanliness and food safety. The dairy inspector comes every three months and we discuss the requirements for the dairy industry,” she said. “With the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, the FDA is moving from a system of management of corrective actions to a system of anticipation of the risks with the implementation of prerequisite programs which are good practices to run a food manufacturing plant. They’re asking more about control points and trends management before serious problems arise and require the manufacturer to issue a recall. We’re moving from a corrective era to a proactive era in food safety.”
Industry self-policing is also helping to ensure that consumers are getting the safe cheese they want, she said, noting that the large retailers have begun asking their suppliers to provide products that meet consumer demands, such as dairy products made without the use of rBST, the bovine growth hormone that increases milk production when injected into dairy cows. “The use of rbST was approved as safe by the FDA. The FDA found that there is no significant difference between milk derived from rbST-treated and non-rbST treated cows, but the distributors want rBST-free milk. The same thing is happening with GMOs,” she said. “Consumers are always pulling us forward before the government does. By the time the government acts, we’ve heard about it, and it’s already being discussed, which is a big advantage.”
By Lorrie Baumann
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is asking for comments and data about the safety of cheese made from unpasteurized milk with a view to regulating more carefully how cheesemakers produce raw milk cheeses. “We are taking this action in light of scientific data on potential health risks associated with consumption of cheese made from unpasteurized milk,” according to an FDA notice published on August 3.
The public has until November 2 to submit either electronic or hard-copy comments and scientific data and information to the FDA. Electronic comments should be submitted to http://www.regulations.gov with reference to Docket Number FDA-2015-N-2596.
The FDA is relying on a 2012 review of outbreaks of foodborne illness that occurred in the U.S. between 1993 and 2006 that pointed a finger directly at cheese, and to cheeses made from unpasteurized milk in particular. According to that study by scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the review included 121 outbreaks of foodborne illness involving dairy products between 1993 and 2006, and among these, 73 (60 percent) involved nonpasteurized milk and resulted in 1,571 cases of illness and two deaths. Out of the 65 outbreaks involving cheese, 27 involved cheese made from raw milk, a figure that’s particularly significant since less than 1 percent of the dairy products consumed in the U.S. during the time period were made from unpasteurized milk, according to the FDA. The 38 outbreaks involving cheese made from pasteurized milk resulted in 744 illnesses and 1 death, while the 27 involving cheese made from raw milk resulted in 641 illnesses and two deaths.
According to the 2012 study, all of the illnesses involving nonpasteurized dairy products were caused by bacteria, although a number of species of bacteria were involved, including Campylobacter species, Salmonella species, E. coli, Brucella species and Shigella species. Three of them were caused by Listeria. That suggests that the contamination more likely came from the dairy environment than from the humans who handled the milk, who’d have been more likely to pass along viruses than bacteria.
The FDA notes in its call for data that cheeses made from unpasteurized milk are required by federal regulations to be aged, typically for 60 days or more. This was presumed to reduce the risk that disease-causing bacteria would still be alive in the cheese when it was eaten, but recent research has shown that the 60-day aging period for soft ripened cheeses might actually increase the risk that the cheese will cause listeriosis, the infection caused by Listeria, by giving more time for the bacteria to multiply. It is not legal in the United States to sell soft ripened cheeses made from unpasteurized milk outside the state in which they were made, but such cheeses can be made and sold in states that permit sales of unpasteurized dairy products.
Dr. Catherine Donnelly, a Professor of Nutrition and Food Sciences at the University of Vermont, is among those who agrees that the FDA should take another look at whether the 60-day aging period for raw milk cheeses does more harm than good in the case of soft ripened cheeses. “The 60-day aging rule should not be applied to a soft-ripened cheese,” she said. The rule makes sense in the case of hard cheeses made from raw milk, she said. “As cheese ages, the pH goes down and the moisture declines, and you’re creating that inhospitable environment [for harmful bacteria].” But in the case of soft cheeses such as a brie or Camembert, the surface molds that are essential to creating the cheeses produce amine products that raise the pH of the cheese, creating an environment in which bacteria can thrive, she said. “Mature ripened Camembert has a pH about 7 [which is neutral]. As the pH goes up, you start getting conditions that allow the growth of Listeria. That’s why in cheeses like brie and Camembert, you get very high levels. The FDA should never have applied the 60-day aging rule to a soft-ripened cheese, but it’s part of our Code of Federal Regulations. That’s not a very good rule from a safety standpoint.” The good news for cheesemakers, however, is that FDA’s soft cheese risk assessment shows that if every batch of raw milk soft ripened cheese is tested for Listeria, the risk is actually lower than that for soft ripened cheese made from pasteurized milk. Donnelly also points out that Food Standards Australia New Zealand conducted a 2009 Risk Assessment of raw milk cheese, which concluded that “Campylobacter spp. [species] were found to be a negligible risk in both raw milk extra hard and Swiss-type cheeses. The presence of Campylobacter spp. was not assessed in raw milk Cheddar, blue, Feta or Camembert cheeses. However, Campylobacter spp. are unlikely to grow in milk or cheese, as their growth requires reduced oxygen tension and temperatures between 32 – 45°C and they do not survive well under slightly acidic conditions, or in the presence of greater than 2 percent salt.”
There’s little question that soft cheeses made from raw milk are potentially more dangerous than hard cheeses made from raw milk. Studies indicate that the risk of illnesses may be orders of magnitude higher for unpasteurized dairy products than for those that have been pasteurized. “In France, you can’t legally sell Camembert beyond 55 days. Why? Because it’s too dangerous,” Donnelly said. She’s concerned that the FDA might now decide that no cheeses should be made from raw milk even though the harder cheeses are much safer. “I’ve studied listeria for a long, long time. I share the concern about the growing incidence of listeria in elderly and susceptible population. Soft cheese is just one category of products that the FDA has determined to be a risk,” she said. “I am just concerned that this might carry over to other varieties of cheese made from raw milk that have been shown to be very microbiologically safe – things like the harder cheeses made from raw milk.”
She points to a 2014 study conducted by scientists affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that distinguishes the types of cheeses involved in 90 outbreaks caused by cheese between 1998 and 2011.While 38 of the outbreaks (42 percent) were caused by cheese made from unpasteurized milk, 44 (49 percent) were caused by cheese made from pasteurized milk. Queso fresco was the most common cause of the outbreaks, including 18 due to cheese made from unpasteurized milk and one due to pasteurized cheese. An additional seven outbreaks reported an unspecified type of soft Mexican-style cheese. “Homemade” cheese was the second most common type reported for the outbreaks due to raw milk cheeses.
The soft unaged cheeses imported from Mexico were responsible for 13 outbreaks – more than a third of all outbreaks associated with cheese during the period. Nine of those were caused by Listeria. In five outbreaks, all due to cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, the cheese was produced or sold illegally. Commercial importation from Mexico of cheese made from unpasteurized milk is illegal unless the cheese has met FDA aging standards, although travelers are allowed to bring in limited amounts of raw milk cheeses for personal use. However, these raw milk cheeses imported for personal use are often illegally sold once they’re in the United States.
The 2014 study concluded that “In addition to using pasteurized milk, soft-cheese-making facilities need to ensure strict sanitation and microbiologic monitoring. Labeling of cheese should include whether the milk used to make it was pasteurized or unpasteurized, whether the cheese was aged and for how long, and the license number of the production facility.” The report adds that, “Efforts to reduce production and sale of illegally manufactured cheeses as well as continued binational collaborations are needed to address the issue of illegal cheese importation.”
“This is where the real risk lies” stated Donnelly.