Raw Milk Cheese
We are strong proponents of raw milk (unpasteurized) cheese. We believe that consumers should have the right to decide by themselves and have resources to make an educated decision.
Raw milk cheese is not only traditional, it is as old as cheese itself. In fact, until Louis Pasteur came along in the mid 19th century, all milk was raw by default.
While it may seem counter-intuitive, microbial organisms are not only responsible for food spoilage they are also fundamental to food preservation. Cheese, like any other fermented food (wine, beer, bread, sauerkraut, to name a few), is a complex interaction between raw ingredients and the ambient microbes in our environment. In reality, very few bacteria are “bad” (i.e. pathogenic) and the good bacteria in cheese ensures that the product remains safe to consume by outcompeting undesirable pathogens.
Not only is raw milk cheese safe to eat, it is delicious and nutritious. Ambient bacteria in raw milk, and other microflora present in dairy before heat-treatment, lend a great deal of flavor to the final product that is all but eliminated when the milk is “cooked.” What’s more, there is an expanding body of scientific literature that suggests that food rich in probiotics (i.e. cheese, yogurt, and other fermented foods) are really quite healthy, providing essential vitamins and minerals and potentially helpful with respect to allergies, asthma, and a host of other health concerns.
In the summer of 2015, we submitted comments to the FDA based on our consumer survey on raw milk cheese consumption.
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.
Non-toxigenic E. Coli
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.