Government regulation threatens cheese industry

When the government approved the Food Safety Modernization Act in 2011, the goal was to head off, rather than react to, food contamination crises.

But one of the unfortunate results has been a recent FDA decision that the use of wooden boards, which have been used to age cheese worldwide for more than a century, is unsanitary because wood can harbor bacteria even after being cleaned and sanitized. The industry has never had a recall due to listeria contamination.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection allows the use of the boards so long as certain protocols are followed. At least 20 million pounds of cheese are aged on wooden boards throughout the state, according to an article in the Wisconsin State Journal, a practice that adds unique flavors and smells to particular cheeses and for which there apparently is no alternative.

The FDA’s rule would also limit foreign-made cheeses aged on wooden boards from entering the country, causing industry concerns overseas as well.

Cheese-makers are hoping the FDA’s decision will be overturned.