After news spread quickly that the FDA was ceasing to permit American cheesemakers to age cheese on wooden boards, cheese lovers – along with the cheese industry – rallied to save the US from Velveeta mediocrity.
“The American Cheese Society (ACS) strongly encourages FDA to revise its interpretation of the Code of Federal Regulation (21 CFR 110.40(a)) to continue to permit properly maintained, cleaned, and sanitized wood as an aging surface in cheesemaking as has been, and is currently, enforced by state and federal regulators and inspectors.”
The FDA claimed no new policy had been enacted and issued this statement, as reported by Forbes:
“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.”
While this statement eases any immediate worry of the FDA cracking down on artisanal cheesemakers, it fails to provide any assurance that the FDA won’t crack down in the future. And, if they do crack down in the future, what’s to stop them from cracking down on aging wine in wood barrels?
While measures to ensure public safety are indeed something to be applauded, certain age-old, proven-safe practices deserve to be looked at on case by case basis.