FDA ruling could alter cheese aging process

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MADISON - Wooden boards have been an integral part of aging a wide variety of cheeses by producers around the world for more than a century, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says they are unsanitary.

Wisconsin allows cheese operations to use wooden boards if they follow protocol approved by the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. DATCP spokesman Jim Dick says officials there are still seeking clarification on the FDA ruling before making any statements.

"Until then, there will be no change in Wisconsin's inspection policy," Dick said.

The Roelli Cheese Haus in Shullsburg uses wooden boards to age 85 percent of its cheeses.

"It's a potential game-changer for the face of artisan cheeses in the United States," owner Chris Roelli told The FDA cited several New York operations despite state laws that permit wooden boards.

But Metz's analysis, made public by the American Cheese Society, didn't include the entire findings of one of the reports. The University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Dairy Research analysis said that report concluded that while some wood can hide some bad bacteria, it can be eliminated as long as a thorough cleaning procedure is followed.

Smukowski said she believes the FDA made its finding partly in response to the enactment of the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, which shifts the focus from responding to contamination crises to preventing them, and that it can create overreactions from the FDA.

"Without the boards, it will be the end of Limburger cheese made in the United States," he said.

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