FDA Eases Fears of Ban on Wood-Aged Cheese

FDA clarifies position on using wood shelving in artisanal cheesemaking

(RxWiki News) Reports that the Food and Drug Administration was banning the use of wooden boards to age cheese sent shockwaves through the artisanal cheesemaking industry. But the FDA is claiming it has not called for any such ban.

Earlier this week, news organizations around the US reported that the FDA would no longer allow cheesemakers to age their cheese on wooden boards out of concern that the practice would spread foodborne illness.

The FDA has refuted those reports, stating, "To be clear, we have not and are not prohibiting or banning the long-standing practice of using wood shelving in artisanal cheese."

The FDA added that a recent food safety law — called the Food Safety Modernization Act — does not ban the practice either.

"Cook and store food on clean surfaces."

The rumors of the wood shelving ban stemmed from an FDA letter sent to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. The letter was written in response to concerns among New York officials after several cheesemakers in that state were cited for using wood shelves.

The letter, written by FDA Branch Chief Monica Metz, read, "Wooden shelves or boards cannot be adequately cleaned and sanitized. The porous structure of wood enables it to absorb and retain bacteria, therefore bacteria generally colonize not only the surface but also inside layers of wood."

Metz continued, "The shelves or boards used for aging make direct contact with finished products; hence they could be a potential source of pathogenic microorganisms in the finished products."

The FDA recognized that the letter triggered concerns in the cheesemaking community. However, the agency maintained that the letter was not meant as a policy statement, but rather as background information.

"Further, we recognize that the language in the communication may have appeared more definitive than it should have, in light of the agency's actual practices on this issue."

In several situations, the FDA has taken action against cheesemaking facilities using wooden boards where Listeria monocytogenes were found. But the FDA stated that is has no data that directly links these Listeria contaminations with the use of wood shelving.

Review Date: 
June 12, 2014