Our Short National Cheese Nightmare Is Over: FDA Backtracks on Wood-Aged Cheese

Jon Sullivan/WikimediaJon Sullivan/WikimediaEarlier this week, I posted about a potential Food and Drug Administration (FDA) crack down* on cheese aged on wood surfaces. It's a practice that's been going on for hundreds of years, and may be more sanitary than aging cheese on plastic. Cheesemakers, libertarians, and a whole bunch of others were rightly outraged, and began making this known. 

Well, good news: The FDA announced Tuesday that wood-aged cheese is safe. From Dairy Herd Management magazine:

The agency said it did not have a new policy banning wooden shelves in cheese-making, adding there was no requirement in recent food safety regulations requiring the agency to address the issue.

Well, okay, but is there an old policy or an old requirement? Because in January the agency cited several New York cheesemakers for using wooden shelves. Industry blog Cheese Underground said this was unusual, as the FDA has traditionally deferred to state policy on this; but the rollout of 2011's Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) has been compelling all sorts of weird new FDA meddling

When the New York Agriculture Department asked for clarification, Monica Metz, an official with the FDA's Dairy and Egg Branch, said the wooden shelves didn't conform to FDA "good manufacturing practice" regulations. But the FDA clarified Tuesday that it had never taken action against a cheesemaker based solely on the use of wood. It's just that these particular wooden shelves at these particular places were poorly cleaned.

Oh my. Has this all just been so much dairy industry hysteria? Or is the FDA backpedaling amidst the criticism? From the FDA's statement yesterday, it sounds to me like more of the latter.  

"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," Lauren Sucher, an FDA spokeswoman, said in a statement.

"Historically, the FDA has expressed concern about whether wood meets this requirement and has noted these concerns in inspectional findings," she said. "FDA is always open to evidence that shows that wood can be safely used for specific purposes, such as aging cheese."

My takeaway from all this seems to be that the FDA isn't mulling some major push to end aging cheese on wooden surfaces. But if it comes across it in (routine?) inspections, cheesemakers may be cited. 

"Good for the FDA for backing down," wrote Forbes contributor Greg McNeal. "Although it’s unfortunate that they are dodging accountability by claiming they did not change their policy." At Cheese Underground, Jeanne Carpenter thanked consumers for writing letters, signing a petition, posting on Facebook, and generally making "standing up for artisan food a main-stream American issue." The FDA's "back-stepping in both tone and message is welcome news for the hundreds of cheesemakers across the country who have invested their life savings in making premium artisanal cheese and aging it on wooden boards," she wrote.

* I despise this phrase, but I've yet to find a better alternative. Taking suggestions...

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • UnCivilServant||

    * I despise this phrase, but I've yet to find a better alternative. Taking suggestions...

    Power trip?

    Malicious compliance?

    Neither really fits either.

    Blunder?

    I don't know.

  • Drake||

    Bureaucratic penetration?

  • Elizabeth Nolan Brown||

    "The FDA has decided to bureaucratically penetrate..."

  • Bardas Phocas||

    Things we do together.

  • R C Dean||

    Howsabout "aggression"?

  • Cis Shitlord||

    Normal course of action for the unaccountable scumbags in bureaucracy whenever they get bored or insecure? Too wordy?

  • Shirley Knott||

    Repression?
    Suppression?
    Jack-booting?

  • antisocial-ist||

    Fucking with?

  • Geoff Nathan||

    Drooling hysteria?

  • creech||

    Next up, targeting restaurants which serve you salmon on a cedar plank. Is there no end to the craven businesses which promote the food poisoning of their customers?

  • Almanian!||

    Crackdowm * I despise this phrase, but I've yet to find a better alternative. Taking suggestions..

    thugging
    force compliance
    statist-mongering
    becausefuckyouthatswhy-ing
    ragebonerban(ning)

  • Jan S.||

    I was leaning towards, "unbelievably incompetent and asinine intrusion" but I think I prefer your "becausefuckyouthatswhy-ing."

  • Auric Demonocles||

    "regulatory enforcement clarification"

  • Sevo||

    "I despise this phrase, but I've yet to find a better alternative."

    Mission creep?

  • UnCivilServant||

    Not technically. "Food Safety" was the buzzword under which the FDA was founded. So it's not an expansion beyond their original scope. It's just bad regulation within the original scope.

  • Sevo||

    UnCivilServant|6.11.14 @ 10:38AM|#
    "Not technically. "Food Safety" was the buzzword under which the FDA was founded."

    You're too kind. I don't think this had to do with food safety.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Just because they don't know anything about food doesn't mean it wasn't related to food safety. They wrote bd regulation out of ignorance and arrogance. Consequences stemmed from it.

  • Elizabeth Nolan Brown||

    "The FDA has decided to mission creep on into cheesemaking..."

    I like that.

  • Vampire||

    FDA: We will need to inspect that wooden spoon you beat your kids with. They might get an infection from a splinter which could cause a splinter infection epidemic. We recommend plastic spoons to beat them with instead.

  • flye||

    Hyper-repressed

  • cw||

    First they came for the artisanal cheesemakers...

  • derpules||

    The FDA announced Tuesday that wood-aged cheese is safe
  • derpules||

    how do these assholes get funding??

    also, fucking squirrels.

  • UnCivilServant||

    how do these assholes get funding??

    First, they commit highway robber writ large, then they borrow ubgodly sums from whoever is willing to loan them funds.

  • Vampire||

    Try peacefully revoking your funds and also your consent to be governed. I doubt there would be a peaceful response.

  • Suellington||

    Nothing left to cut.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Looks like the FDA cut the cheese.

  • Sevo||

    So they caved; so what?
    They still hold an arbitrary (un-elected) power to close down any food-processing business with the push of a key.
    Oh, and where is lefty-craig to tell us about how regulatory bodies analyze costs/benefits?

  • Cis Shitlord||

    Who?

  • JW||

    Never attribute to malice, as to what can easily be explained by incompetence *and* malice.

  • lap83||

    "Taking suggestions..."

    crime against all that is gouda and hole-y

  • Jan S.||

    ^This.

  • Suellington||

    First they came for the buckyballs and then they came for the cheese. They managed to get the buckyballs pulled but they couldn't stop the cheese.

  • Zeb||

    It has been my understanding (and experience) that wooden utensils and cutting boards are quite safe and better than plastic. The little grooves that knives make in plastic cutting boards are much better places for bacteria to colonize than those in wood.

  • keithp||

    I wish Ohio would backtrack on regulating wineries as a food safety problem. Ever hear of any food safety issues with wine? It doesn't exist but the Ohio Department of Agriculture chooses to regulate wineries as a food safety problem. This is unnecessary, duplicitous of sanitation regulation in Ohio Liquor codes and licenses, as well as discriminatory as wineries outside of Ohio do not have to comply with ODA regulations. For information or to take action on Ohio Senate bill 32, please see: www.FreeTheWineries.com or www.facebook.com/FreeTheWineries

  • terrymac||

    "Crackdown" is a single word, not a phrase. The only synonym I can think of at the moment would be "suppression."

  • PatriotInTheOriginalSense||

    Ham-fisted nannyish meddling?

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement