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.
In January, Monica Metz, an FDA official, responded to questions
posed by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets,
which sought clarification on the FDA's policy after several
cheesemakers in the state were cited for their use of wooden shelves
during FDA inspections.
Metz said the use of the shelves did not conform to good
manufacturing practices that require that "all plant equipment and
utensils shall be so designed and of such material and workmanship
as to be adequately cleanable, and shall be properly maintained."
Her comments caused a furor in the artisanal cheese-making
community, where rumors flew that the FDA was poised to ban the
"A sense of disbelief and distress is quickly rippling through the
U.S. artisan cheese community," wrote Cheese Underground blogger
The FDA said it had no new policy and had never taken any action
against a cheesemaker based solely on the use of wooden shelves.
Historically, the agency has cited cheesemakers when shelves were
"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
Fears over the rumored ban caused confusion about imports of cheese
from Europe, where wood-aging is used to make cheeses such as Comte,
Beaufort and Reblochon.
[to top of second column]
"Did the FDA just ban European cheese?" Cato Institute trade policy
analyst Bill Watson wrote in a blog post on Tuesday.
The European Union and United States are already at odds over
Europe's desire to keep the exclusive right to names such as
parmigiano reggiano and asiago, preventing U.S. cheesemakers from
marketing their products using those names.
Rebecca Sherman Orozco, a spokeswoman for the American Cheese
Society, said that "for centuries, cheesemakers have been creating
delicious, nutritious, unique cheeses aged on wood."
The FDA's Sucher said the agency would "engage with the artisanal
cheese-making community to determine whether certain types of
cheeses can safely be made by aging them on wooden shelving."
(Reporting by Toni Clarke in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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