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FDA Seeks Data, Comments On Reducing Risk Of Raw Milk Cheese

FDA Interested In Practices Used By Artisanal Cheese Industry; Agency Also Releases Soft-Ripened Cheese Risk Assessment

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today announced that it is requesting comments and scientific data and information that will assist the agency in identifying and evaluating intervention measures that might have an effect on the presence of bacterial pathogens in cheeses manufactured from raw (unpasteurized) milk.

FDA said it is taking this action in light of scientific data on potential health risks associated with consumption of cheese made from raw milk.

The current 60-day aging period for cheese manufactured from raw milk was presumed to act as a control measure to reduce the risk that pathogens would be present when the cheese was consumed.

However, the available data and information raise questions about the safety of cheese manufactured from raw milk, even when aged, the agency stated. For example, research has demonstrated that pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7 can survive a 60-day aging period in a hard cheese such as Cheddar cheese.

Also, a 1997 memorandum from a subcommittee of the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF) stated that the scientific literature confirms that pathogens can survive the 60-day aging process for cheeses manufactured using raw milk.

More recently, the results of the FDA/Health Canada quantitative risk assessment (QRA) suggest that the 60-day aging period for soft-ripened cheese may increase the risk of listeriosis from consumption of soft-ripened cheese by allowing more time for Listeria monocytogenes, if present, to multiply (rather than decrease) as the soft-ripened cheese ages.

FDA said it recognizes that there is broad diversity in cheese manufacturing operations and approaches and that many factors go into ensuring the safety of the food. Many types of raw milk cheeses are made using traditional methods that require a successful balance involving the quality of the milk, the equipment, and the environment, including ensuring the presence of bacteria critical to the nature of the cheese while preventing the introduction or growth of pathogens.

In issuing this call for data and information, FDA said it is particularly interested in learning more about the standards and practices in use by the growing artisanal cheese manufacturing community.

FDA said it is continuing to evaluate the safety of processes for the manufacture of cheese, particularly processes for the manufacture of cheese from raw milk, and is requesting comments and scientific data and other information to:

• Understand what (if any) aspects of the current regulatory framework for the production of cheese manufactured from raw milk act as an impediment to efficient and effective control measures to significantly minimize pathogens that may be present... Send me more information