Current United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation states that cheese can be made from unpasteurized (raw) milk so long as the cheese has undergone an aging process no less than 60 days at a temperature no less than 35° F. This applies to cheeses made domestically as well as those that have been imported.
Since 1999, Oldways has been at the forefront of advocacy movements to ensure that regulations in place do not limit the production and sale of raw milk cheeses, while at the same time urging Congress and other elected officials to appropriately fund our regulatory agencies in charge of food safety.
We now have a weekly blog where we are updating on our activities as well as providing information on all things cheese.
The year started with a lot of activity, starting with a proposal from to the U.S. Trade Commission to increase the importation fees for raw milk cheese. We are still monitoring this situation and will be updating as information becomes available. Why Roquefort, again?
To better our advocacy efforts, the Oldways Cheese Coalition is conducting research on the state of raw milk cheese production in the United States. We are started with the state of Massachusetts and will be sharing information periodically on our blog. Surveying American Artisan Cheesemaking, State by State
More recently, there was a recall of some contaminated cheeses. We share our views and provide information on pathogens. Cheese and Listeria Monocytogenes
We are excited to tell you about the advancements in Congress towards the protection of traditional cheesemaking practices. We learned from our partners that the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, at the behest of Senators Patrick Leahy (VT) and Tammy Baldwin (WI) along with Congressman Mark Pocan (WI), included language in the FY17 Agricultural Appropriations Bill directing the FDA to work closely with traditional cheesemakers. Specifically, the language included in the bill says:
"While the Committee appreciates the FDA's willingness to pause enforcement and reevaluate its standard regarding permissible levels of nontoxigenic E. coli in raw milk cheese, it remains concerned that this standard was developed in the absence of any published data from controlled studies describing either the process or rate of transfer of bacteria from the environment in the plant to the product. Therefore, the Committee directs the FDA to continue working with stakeholders to benefit from their expertise about safe cheese-making practices to achieve the mutual goal of food safety, and to provide to the Committee on Appropriations the results of the 'Surveillance Sampling Program for Raw Milk Cheese'."
This language was only made possible through the participation of many interested groups. In addition, Congressional staffers noted how important and effective it was to hear from constituents. We want to thank you for signing our petition last year and ask you to keep in contact with your Washington representatives, demanding your right to choose artisanal and traditional cheeses.
Of great interest and importance, the FDA released information from their Microbiological Surveillance Sampling program. As you may remember, we had requested this information back in 2014 via a Freedom of Information Act request, but had not received any kind of response. An important point of the report is that of the more than 1,600 cheese samples tested for pathogens-the FDA made this remarkable admission: "The data collected by the FDA indicate that the prevalences of Salmonella and Shiga toxin are relatively low and similar to the contamination rates in many other foods." You can access the FDA summary here.
Unfortunately, there are still stories and reports that show a bias against raw milk cheeses and other traditional cheesemaking practices. The Pew Charitable Trusts published on August 4, 2016 a report that misses the main points of the FDA summary. We have contacted the author and requested a clarification on the information published. You can read our letter here.
In December 2015, we recognized that a new standard on maximum levels of non-toxigenic e. Coli was affecting traditional producers and in coordination with cheesemakers, we created a Petition to Protect Raw Milk Cheese. We asked the FDA to stop its bureaucratic over-reach. Our petition gather 3470 signatures, and over 1,700 individual comments.
Here you can see a copy of the original letter sent to Michael Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine at the Food and Drug Administration. This letter was signed by 24 members of Congress and submitted on December 3rd, 2015.
In January 2016, the Massachusetts Cheese Guild partnered with us to contact the MA Congressional Delegation and invite them join in the request for clarification from the FDA.
On February 8, 2016, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it will pausing their sampling program on nontoxic microorganism and agreed to listen to cheesemakers. Please read our Press Release.