Can we keep the FDA away from our natural dairy products?
The FDA wants to prevent artisanal cheese producers from using wooden boards because they can't be "adequately cleaned and sanitized."
There was a case in New York state in 2012 where listeria was found with a small cheesemaker. Clearly, there were issues in that scenario that don't exist elsewhere.
The FDA isn't targeting just domestic cheesemakers. The plan is to ban the import of cheese that use wooden boards.
Now the FDA has backed away a bit from this draconian step.
"The FDA does not have a new policy banning the use of wooden shelves in cheese-making, nor is there any FSMA requirement in effect that addresses this issue. Moreover, the FDA has not taken any enforcement action based solely on the use of wooden shelves.
"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. Historically, the FDA has expressed concern about whether wood meets this requirement and has noted these concerns in inspectional findings. FDA is always open to evidence that shows that wood can be safely used for specific purposes, such as aging cheese.
"The FDA will engage with the artisanal cheese-making community to determine whether certain types of cheeses can safely be made by aging them on wooden shelving."
The FDA wants safety. Food producers want safety. The difference is that they have very different definitions of safety.
Artisanal good producers want to produce safe food because sales, money, integrity. If something goes bad, the impact is significantly worse on artisanal food producers than mainstream food producers. So they work harder to ensure a quality product.
No food producer, artisanal or mainstream, is perfect, which is why we have food inspectors. Well, not enough food inspectors, not even close.
And when we hear from the FDA or the USDA, the impact is stronger on artisanal food producers. Artisanal cheese and raw milk freak out the government while GMOs, mad cow disease, and antibiotics and hormones are a part of everyday business.
Artisanal cheesemakers are really worried, despite the FDA backtracking. Mainstream meat producers sleep well because they know they can keep doing the status quo with little to no punishment, even if caught. Tyson reportedly buying Hillshire, reducing the number of players in the mainstream meat industry, reinforces the impact that these companies are "too big to fail."
Smaller food producers aren't "too big to fail" and the FDA and USDA can show muscle without ramification back in DC.
The U.S. food system allows ingredients that other countries actively ban. But the FDA can't stop that. Ground beef is actively encouraged to be cooked to 160°F because of the meat process. But the FDA can't stop any element of that process. (At least they aren't like Canada that makes it a crime for restaurants to cook ground beef less than 160°F.)
One case of listeria on one farm and the FDA wanted to destroy artisanal cheese worldwide. FDA! WTF?
The FDA take on safety is for us to live in bubbles with plenty of padding in case we fall down. They might lead to "safe" but boring and completely unnecessary. A bit of steak tartar with well-grown meat, artisanal raw milk cheese, and a glass of raw milk from an organic farm is a meal that should be celebrated. That is freedom. This isn't for everybody, but the people who want it are those who know to search out quality options.
Eating cheese could be considered dangerous in itself. Lots of bacteria involved. In this cheese battle, the FDA gets confused between good bacteria and bad bacteria.
We need more food inspectors in this country, but we need a more independent approach to food inspection. More resources spent on mainstream producers and smarter resources spent on artisanal producers.
Artisanal producers shouldn't receive less treatment because they're artisanal. Food safety is important, but right now, what little effort is spent on that is tainted by politics and money. This approach damages the integrity of our food inspection system.