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First they came for your raw milk, then your Parmigiano Reggiano
June 10, 2014 6:59 AM   Subscribe

This week the FDA announced it will not permit American cheesemakers to age cheese on wooden boards, potentially destroying the ability to make or import a wide variety of artisanal cheeses. Despite being legal in the various cheese making states and having been used for hundreds of years, the FDA is cracking down under the Food Safety Modernization Act. A sampling of cheeses impacted: Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Cabot Clothbound, Marieke Feonegreek, Bleu Mont Bandaged Cheddar, along with parmesan, aged cheddar and the only American produced Limburger. posted by Muddler (354 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
Food modernization? Modern food is like, what, taco bell?
posted by TwelveTwo at 7:02 AM on June 10 [16 favorites]


Been meaning for years to start making my own cheese. This may do it.

Love the headline! I'm going to use it when telling people about this.
posted by Melismata at 7:04 AM on June 10




if parmigiano reggiano is outlawed, then, well, only outlaws will enjoy the grandfather of cheese.

something something cold dead hands, but seriously, don't fuck with my parmigiano reggiano.
posted by entropone at 7:05 AM on June 10 [39 favorites]


What's next they'll ban ageing wine on wood?
posted by charles148 at 7:08 AM on June 10 [6 favorites]


This is so fucking stupid I just can't.
posted by rtha at 7:09 AM on June 10 [65 favorites]


Nooooooo! Seriously, Cabot Clothbound is one of my favorite American cheeses, and it would really suck if it couldn't be produced anymore. It has a wonderful nutty-sweet flavor that I think you couldn't get without aging.

It's ridiculous that artisanal practices are being discouraged in favor of more standardized, sterile, dull crap.
posted by peacheater at 7:10 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]


So... I guess it's time to make friends with cheesemakers so I can get in on the ground floor of the inevitable cheese black market?
posted by winna at 7:11 AM on June 10 [15 favorites]


Bourbon is aged in wood. Why is that any different?
posted by foggy out there now at 7:12 AM on June 10


This aggression will not stand. Roll those cheesewheels to the barricades!
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:12 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]


*sits nervously above 49th parallel with selection of local raw-milk cheeses*
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:12 AM on June 10 [8 favorites]


The mob will be running wood aged cheese from Canada into back room "cheese-easys" in no time.
posted by PenDevil at 7:13 AM on June 10 [60 favorites]


It gets worse. From the first article:

As if this weren't all bad enough, the FDA has also "clarified" - I'm really beginning to dislike that word - that in accordance with FSMA, a cheesemaker importing cheese to the United States is subject to the same rules and inspection procedures as American cheesemakers.
posted by peacheater at 7:14 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


In the land of the freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee...
posted by ominous_paws at 7:14 AM on June 10 [4 favorites]



Bourbon is aged in wood. Why is that any different?


Bacterial contamination is presumably less of a risk with booze.

But this is still a stupid rule.
posted by Jahaza at 7:14 AM on June 10 [6 favorites]


There is a reason the term "American cheese" means what it does.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:15 AM on June 10 [33 favorites]


Bourbon is aged in wood. Why is that any different?

Jack Daniels' lobbyists are richer than the family cheesemakers'.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:15 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Is this Big Cheese at work?
posted by Devonian at 7:15 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


i can't wait to only be able to get my hands on bright orange, tasteless, perfect rectangular prisms of shrink-wrapped pretend cheddar that is more oil than cheese.
posted by entropone at 7:15 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]


I'm a Wisconsin guy, I tend to be in favor of regulation, but then I was all like WAIT WHAT PLEASANT RIDGE RESERVE AND BLUE MONT BANDAGED CHEDDAR NOOOOOOOOOOOOO..... so now I'm confused.

Pleasant Ridge is the famous one, which you can buy in Murray's and DiBruno's and Cowgirl and other cheese shops around the country, but I think Bandaged Cheddar might be even better.
posted by escabeche at 7:15 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


I guess I don't understand. The cheesemakers say that it is possible to clean and sterilize the boards, despite what the FDA says.

But they need to use the boards because of the bacteria that live on them impart a taste to the cheese.

So, are the boards cleaned or not ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:16 AM on June 10 [10 favorites]


The mob will be running wood aged cheese from Canada into back room "cheese-easys" in no time.

So the opposite of this, then.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:16 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


I for one am shocked to hear that there could be bacteria in my cheese.
posted by entropone at 7:17 AM on June 10 [44 favorites]


There's a shit ton of bacteria in your guts too. Quick! Chug down a litre of bleach!
posted by PenDevil at 7:19 AM on June 10 [13 favorites]


Did you know that the milk vessels are generally aged around wood also. My milk vessels (Goats) decided a Cedar just wasn't in the right spot this week and decided to consume it... NOW THERE is WOOD "IN" MY CHEESE how unsanitary.

I also wonder if this has some of the same "rules" as cutting boards where Wood is far more sanitary then plastic (especially worn rough plastic) and glass cutting boards.

I live in Canada and I don't sell my cheese but what a stupid rule. If there is proof (I believe in Pasteurization) fine but come on!

Hell if you believe the legends about Brie, Wood is the least unsanitary thing that can happen to make a good cheese.
posted by mrgroweler at 7:20 AM on June 10 [8 favorites]


I hope they caerphilly reconsider.
posted by chillmost at 7:20 AM on June 10 [36 favorites]


As someone who takes cheese Very Seriously (we host a yearly cheese party, even) I find this distressing.
posted by Windigo at 7:20 AM on June 10


in other FDA news, they've proposed a rule forbidding craft brewers from selling the grain left over from brewing to small beef ranchers. i've heard there's a corporate agenda here to stifle local food production. what we need is a cheese militia as a counterforce to FDA agents.
posted by bruce at 7:21 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


ominous_paws: In the land of the freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee...

And the hoooooome of the blaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:21 AM on June 10 [7 favorites]


Obviously, more anti-religious overzealous regulation from the Obama administration:

What did he say?
I think it was “Blessed are the cheesemakers.”
Aha, what’s so special about the cheesemakers?
Well, obviously it’s not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.

posted by jenkinsEar at 7:22 AM on June 10 [12 favorites]


The angriest rant I've ever seen on facebook (and probably ever will see) was about this last night from a friend who makes cheese for a living. Boy oh boy was he mad.
posted by lownote at 7:22 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


Huh. Y'know that idea that plastic cutting boards are better than wooden ones? A comment on the cheese thread links to an article saying that that's pretty much an anecdotal thing, and that wood cutting boards can be safer.

And what everyone else said: Big Cheese, Big Ag, Big Pharma: they get their way; we don't.
posted by kozad at 7:22 AM on June 10 [4 favorites]


From the "critics" link:
Wooden boards, which have been an integral part of aging a wide variety of cheeses by producers around the world for more than a century, were called unsanitary by an FDA official after the agency cited several New York operations for using them.
Huh. Only "more than a century"? What did cheesemakers use before that?
posted by No-sword at 7:23 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Okay, I can get along without that... Cabot Clothbound, kinda like that one... Marieke Feonegreek, Oooh, that's gonna hurt... Bleu Mont Bandaged Cheddar, WHAT?!? and the only American produced Limburger. NOOOOO!!!!! This is an OUTRAGE!!!!
posted by Floydd at 7:23 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


what we need is a cheese militia as a counterforce to FDA agents.

Exactly. Why do all the militias have to be for red-state rednecks? How about a militia to defend craft beer and artisanal cheese?
posted by jonp72 at 7:23 AM on June 10 [7 favorites]


And so the profession known as "Cheese Smuggler" gains a bit more viability as a profession.

Cheese Smuggling: it's not just a potentially hilarious new euphemism, it's a racket.
posted by chambers at 7:24 AM on June 10


everything but the shittiest of industrial cheeses is basically banned under this. Including any and all euro imports.

I think the FDA is on a tear of late. My preferred cheesemonger was just forced to take his reblochon off the shelf because the producer in France couldn't provide a good enough paper trail that their milk was pasturized

This aggression will not stand, man.
posted by JPD at 7:26 AM on June 10 [8 favorites]


What did cheesemakers use before that?

It was probably still wood or rocks (cheese cave after all) but the "Wood" would have been a shelf and not "designated cheese aging board".

Either that or they hung them in the air, so you can get full bacterial immersion.

OR they had a cheese child that would 24/7 toss the cheeses in the air so nothing could touch them ever but those damn liberal child labour laws saw an end to that practice.
posted by mrgroweler at 7:28 AM on June 10 [7 favorites]


On the other hand, my favorite Wisconsin-produced fresh mozarella is from Crave Brothers. Last year they had a listeria issue and it killed somebody and gave somebody else a miscarriage. It's not like there aren't real health issues around cheese.

Then again, Crave mozarella is pasteurized.
posted by escabeche at 7:28 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


Those FDA guys must really hate food.
posted by popcassady at 7:30 AM on June 10 [8 favorites]


There is no way in hell that factory-farmed poultry can be more sanitary than wood-aged cheese. No way.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:31 AM on June 10 [73 favorites]


and also mozzarella is not an aged cheese.
posted by JPD at 7:32 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]


Oh! I was just thinking about this, too! There's a really great comic book called Chew that explores a reality where Avian Flu killed millions of people, chicken is outlawed as a food, and the FDA becomes one of the most powerful agencies in the federal government (among a whole lot of other really creative characterizations). They go around busting up black market chicken operations and stuff. It looks like we're approaching an equally dark timeline to that.
posted by lownote at 7:33 AM on June 10 [7 favorites]


Time to eject all of the corporate shills from our government agencies.
posted by Pudhoho at 7:34 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]


I thought there were potentially health benefits of consuming aged cheeses?
posted by xarnop at 7:35 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


This is no gouda.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:35 AM on June 10 [12 favorites]


I actually don't think this is corporate shills so much as the overzealousness of the USDA in regulating industries that don't benefit from copious lobbying funding. Compare and contrast this the the utter failure to regulate the poultry industry effectively.
posted by JPD at 7:36 AM on June 10 [17 favorites]


Who in the FDA approved this nonsense?

Look, you know me, I'm all for regulations that make sense, but this is just stupid. In this case, the cheese-making methods effectively are the cheese. They might as well have just banned the cheeses.

This is lousy rule making. Reflects badly on the FDA and on regulatory bodies in the US generally.

How much you want to bet there's some industry influence here from the mass producers who've seen themselves losing market to better quality craft cheeses?
posted by saulgoodman at 7:36 AM on June 10 [22 favorites]


One last joke: My wife says my cheese (Formage Blanc with tiny fresh garlic chives), ages in her belly.
posted by mrgroweler at 7:37 AM on June 10


So wait, there will be no more imported aged cheese? No more real parmesan? No more aged gouda? This is awful. I mean, I'm vegan about 95% of the time, but when I fall off the wagon, I want to fall into the parmesan, so to speak. And not the rubbery fake kind, either.
posted by Frowner at 7:38 AM on June 10 [17 favorites]


How much you want to bet there's some industry influence here from the mass producers who've seen themselves losing market to better quality craft cheeses?

Honestly - the market share here is so small we're talking about that its not worth their lobbying money.
posted by JPD at 7:39 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]


As a French friend's father said while proffering a room-temperature chevre on an old wooden cutting board, "Often our cheese is more meat than milk". His wife and her sister canned their own fois gras de canard, and he distilled his own Armagnac. After lunch we had a nap, then a swim in the ocean...
posted by jcrcarter at 7:39 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]


When they said capitalism will eat itself, I didn't realise it would be because they would have banned all the actual food because of powerful lobby groups.
posted by Happy Dave at 7:39 AM on June 10 [6 favorites]


Okay, today after work I am going to the cheese store. Time to stock up.
posted by Frowner at 7:40 AM on June 10


Exactly. Why do all the militias have to be for red-state rednecks? How about a militia to defend craft beer and artisanal cheese?


Most sluggish militia ever.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:40 AM on June 10 [30 favorites]


i believe that it IS corporate shills. every bite of artisanal cheese you take is one less Kraft single sold. the poultry industry, tyson, perdue, is big enough to have lobbyists and take regulators out to fancy four-star vacations every year.
posted by bruce at 7:40 AM on June 10 [8 favorites]


Just wait until the FDA figures out about the bacteria used to make.... everything.
posted by Cosine at 7:41 AM on June 10 [6 favorites]


I wonder if the rise of cooking and foodie-ism in pop culture is big enough to generate significant blowback on this. Especially if it's going to reach banning import of Parmigiano Reggiano and aged cheddars. Those are pretty universal.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:42 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Metz, who heads the FDA’s Dairy and Egg branch replied, saying that wooden boards “could be a potential source of pathogenic microorganisms in the finished products.”

“Wooden shelves or boards cannot be adequately cleaned and sanitized,” Metz wrote, adding that “the porous structure of wood enables it to absorb and retain bacteria.”
The stupid in these remarks is blinding. Bacteria is what makes cheese cheese. In this case, the bug itself is a feature not a bug.

Honestly - the market share here is so small we're talking about that its not worth their lobbying money.

Then maybe this is just incompetence. But it's at least that.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:43 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Exactly. Why do all the militias have to be for red-state rednecks? How about a militia to defend craft beer and artisanal cheese?


Most sluggish militia ever.


Disbanded in disgrace after repeatedly violating the ban on gas attacks.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:45 AM on June 10 [6 favorites]


I don't really understand US politics, being a Brit, and some of my Wisconsin friends are pretty angry about this. Is this some kind of right wing punishment or revenge thing e.g. "Yes, okay, you can same sex marry in Wisconsin now but if you serve Bleu Mont Bandaged Cheddar at the wedding reception then it's 5 to 15 in the State Penitentiary."?
posted by Wordshore at 7:45 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]


Its the American desire to manage manageable risks to zero. In the FDA's mind one death is too many. One illness is too many. Go check out a "should I eat this" thread on askMefi. Its pervasive in American culture.

And then people get in their cars.
posted by JPD at 7:45 AM on June 10 [65 favorites]


I just got an enhanced VT drivers license to get back into Canada, so I'm ready to take up cheese smuggling as a career, now that I've heard of it.

Of course, I'd probably just eat up all the profits.
posted by MtDewd at 7:45 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Since the FDA is a federal regulatory body, and these methods of cheese production remain unregulated in most states, we should still be able to buy artisanal cheese from producers local to us, right?

Assuming any of them can stay in business, that is. This is depressing.
posted by my favorite orange at 7:46 AM on June 10


Parmesan is far too dangerous to eat, but repeated concussions from football is good for kids.

It builds character.
posted by Avenger at 7:47 AM on June 10 [32 favorites]


To paraphrase,

I was a liberal until the FDA took my cheese, now I'm outraged about Chappaquiddick.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:48 AM on June 10 [8 favorites]


I don't really understand US politics, being a Brit,

Here, let me try:

Witless bureaucratic wankery, likely at the behest of Big Cheese's political shills.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:49 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


Its the American desire to manage manageable risks to zero. In the FDA's mind one death is too many.

Why is why the FDA never approves things that kill people!
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:49 AM on June 10


no, my favorite orange. the federal government regulates "interstate commerce", and there's a bad line of supreme court decisions (starting with wickard v. filburn) which holds that purely in-state commerce can be regulated because it impacts interstate commerce.
posted by bruce at 7:50 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Honestly - the market share here is so small we're talking about that its not worth their lobbying money.

Right, but SAB/Miller and InBev once took that stance, and they're losing market share every year to a healthy, growing craft beer movement.

There is a real threat to the Industrial Food Complex in the form of local food - craft beer, local cheese, small farms, farmer's markets, etc etc - and they're taking that threat seriously. Even in the small, "natural" food market there's consolidation in the form of UNFI, who is shutting out producers that don't conform to their specs.

Raw milk is illegal in Wisconsin entirely because of the big dairy industry, so it wouldn't surprise me to see traditional cheesemaking techniques banned nationally by the FDA simply because Big Cheese has convinced them it's "unsanitary".
posted by rocketman at 7:50 AM on June 10 [8 favorites]


This is not even based in science and that is horrifying. Why are these people allowed to fail at their jobs so openly?
posted by xarnop at 7:50 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Jack Daniels' lobbyists are richer than the family cheesemakers'.

And what everyone else said: Big Cheese, Big Ag, Big Pharma: they get their way; we don't.

Um, folks, before we go off on our usual anti-corporate rants here I'd just like to point out that Cabot's parent company, Agri-Mark Inc., makes close to a billion in sales each year.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:50 AM on June 10 [7 favorites]


Witless bureaucratic wankery, likely at the behest of Big Cheese's political shills.

Krafty move?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:50 AM on June 10 [4 favorites]


i believe that it IS corporate shills. every bite of artisanal cheese you take is one less Kraft single sold. the poultry industry, tyson, perdue, is big enough to have lobbyists and take regulators out to fancy four-star vacations every year.

Well I don't know. Craft beer might be a threat to Big Beer, just a year or so from taking 10% of the market, but artisanal cheese? Less than 1%, I'd guess.

Still, the image of cheese lobbyists taking regulators out to fancy four-star vacations every year is pretty funny: you can't even order Kraft cheese at a fancy restaurant.
posted by kozad at 7:51 AM on June 10


Can you lot just give gun regulation to the FDA and the cheese to the NRA?
posted by Devonian at 7:51 AM on June 10 [20 favorites]


The person that this is coming from at the FDA is Monica Metz, head of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition's Dairy and Egg Branch. Prior to working for the FDA Metz worked for the world's largest industrial producer of mozzarella. Yes, there really is a Big Cheese and it really is involved here.
posted by Cosine at 7:52 AM on June 10 [75 favorites]


OK, what's that Whitehouse petition link again?
posted by aramaic at 7:53 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Craft beer might be a threat to Big Beer, just a year or so from taking 10% of the market, but artisanal cheese? Less than 1%, I'd guess.

Your feeling is that big business would wait until a growing trend is a real threat before stepping on it?
posted by Cosine at 7:53 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


there's a bad line of supreme court decisions (starting with wickard v. filburn) which holds that purely in-state commerce can be regulated because it impacts interstate commerce.

Welp. Goddamnit.
posted by my favorite orange at 7:54 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


I wonder if this can be got around by co-ops. In NYC right after the smoking ban, you could smoke in a bar if the bartender was the owner of the bar, since that wasn't enforced-employee-secondhand-smoke-huffing. Can we all buy into a cheese maker so the risk is only borne by the owners too?

Also, hey FDA, how about you hire more inspectors for the Sinclair Lewis side of food manufacturing and leave us cheezy people alone until you get that sorted?
posted by drowsy at 7:54 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


Does this even matter? Can you tell the difference between cheese aged on wood and cheese aged on metal? The link above describing the use of wood shelves for aging cheese talks about air circulation and also methods used in sanitizing the wood, but only the aromatic woods are talked about for imparting flavor. I wonder if this claim would survive a taste-test.

On the other hand, I wonder how many cases per year there are of harmful bacteria getting in wood-aged cheese and causing a problem. If this is small relative to the number of consumers of the products, then I don't see why new regulation is necessary.

I don't know enough of these facts to decide if this is a sensible decision or not. I think a lot of people are getting caught up in "wood-aged cheese", because it sounds "artisanal".
posted by demiurge at 7:54 AM on June 10 [6 favorites]


Um, folks, before we go off on our usual anti-corporate rants here I'd just like to point out that Cabot's parent company, Agri-Mark Inc., makes close to a billion in sales each year.

Well, that does complicate things, doesn't it? Still, I don't think that changes the basic narrative, because "parent companies" do not generally order their little toddler companies around insofar as their production methods go, as far as I understand this kind of arrangement.
posted by kozad at 7:56 AM on June 10


Can you tell the difference between cheese aged on wood and cheese aged on metal?

What do you think I am, some kind of Philistine?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:56 AM on June 10 [9 favorites]


The person that this is coming from at the FDA is Monica Metz, head of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition's Dairy and Egg Branch. Prior to working for the FDA Metz worked for the world's largest industrial producer of mozzarella. Yes, there really is a Big Cheese and it really is involved here.

Your agenda is showing.

Here is her linked in profile

She worked for that company 13 years ago for what looks like her first three years out of grad school. She's been at the FDA since '01
posted by JPD at 7:56 AM on June 10 [20 favorites]


It will be sad day indeed if all we have left are Kraft Shingles.
posted by Daddy-O at 7:57 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


“Wooden shelves or boards cannot be adequately cleaned and sanitized,” Metz wrote, adding that “the porous structure of wood enables it to absorb and retain bacteria.”

There's pretty good evidence that this is untrue.
posted by sneebler at 7:57 AM on June 10 [7 favorites]


Proof Big Cheese plays the long game.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:58 AM on June 10 [7 favorites]


I have been making my own cheese for about a year now, with outstanding results. I have a source for raw milk, but milk pasteurized at low temperature is also acceptable. Crazy regulation just steps up the decentralization of production.
posted by No Robots at 7:58 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


Your feeling is that big business would wait until a growing trend is a real threat before stepping on it?

That would be really stupid by big business. No, what you want to do is cash in on the trend by either purchasing some small timers or just steal their methods and crush the competition by producing your own "artisinal" product, which you can take a loss on because of your massive cash reserves until the competition is completely undercut and then you hold monopoly status in a hot new "trending" product. Voila you've just upped your market share by 5%.*

*5%? you ask, why yes with the marketing of how hot the "artisinal" products are you actually increase their share of sales while at the same time you are squeezing out the competition through undercutting.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:00 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


The whole "craft cheese is too small a threat for Big Cheese to bother" - I don't think that this is how government tends to operate. I have not noticed, for example, that tiny useless hippie groups get left alone because they are "too small a threat" - speaking as someone who has been a member of many tiny useless hippie groups, I've been repeatedly startled by the amount of effort the state has put into busting things up, harassing people, etc, when my impression has been that we're just a bunch of argumentative doofuses. I think the idea is that you deal with the tiny threats while they are still tiny, even if you need to crush ten tiny ones for every one actual dangerous one.

Also, every bureaucracy needs to grow. "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell" - that's not just capitalism, it's government bureaucracy unless there's very good popular participation. Not necessarily because of anything sinister, but because every year people want to justify their existence and their budgets, which means that we need new threats and new regulations.

And there's also data creep - once you can track or regulate something, there's a huge impulse to do so even if there's no obvious purpose. The pull of "having the data" is enough, particularly if there's no one with any power to push back. (And I feel the power of data-gathering in my own work - you get lured into thinking that more tracking and more procedure is always better, even when it's actually both easier and cheaper to give people a long leash.)
posted by Frowner at 8:00 AM on June 10 [18 favorites]


JPD: She worked in food safety for a global giant of industrial cheese production, she would have been taught the "safe and correct" way of making cheese. She now works for the government saying what is the "safe and correct" way to regulate cheese production.

I'm not saying she is the boss of Big Cheese, just another cog in the machine, the end result is the same.
posted by Cosine at 8:01 AM on June 10 [6 favorites]


That's not what you were trying to imply at all. C'mon.

And yet I completely agree with what you are saying here.
posted by JPD at 8:03 AM on June 10 [4 favorites]


I wonder if the rise of cooking and foodie-ism in pop culture is big enough to generate significant blowback on this. Especially if it's going to reach banning import of Parmigiano Reggiano and aged cheddars. Those are pretty universal.

It does intersect somewhat with the white, upper middle class, liberal-ish sort that the Obama administration is more inclined to listen to. Who knows, maybe we'll get lucky.

Is this some kind of right wing punishment or revenge thing e.g. "Yes, okay, you can same sex marry in Wisconsin now but if you serve Bleu Mont Bandaged Cheddar at the wedding reception then it's 5 to 15 in the State Penitentiary."?

No, the FDA is part of the executive branch, which means most direct political meddling would have to come from the Obama administration, which doesn't oppose gay marriage.
posted by indubitable at 8:03 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Bourbon is aged in wood. Why is that any different?

Let me give you a not-flippant response. In this case the wooden boards are used to preserve bacteria between generations, a prospect the FDA considers icky because along with the good bacteria any other bacteria could sneak in.

Bourbon on the other hand is always aged in new, charred oak casks every time. Yep. Every batch of bourbon requires a brand new set of casks to be created every time. A lot of the old casks get sent to Scotland to age Scotch.

So yes, that's why they're different.
posted by Talez at 8:03 AM on June 10 [8 favorites]


imagine how the ban on authentic italian parmesan will affect good italian restaurants, the kind of restaurants top mafiosi eat at. wouldn't you love to see FDA raiders get met at an artisanal dairy by the gambino family? is it possible to become a "made man" if i'm of northern european descent?

this reconfirms the wisdom of my decision in 2001 to move to the oregon countryside. acre and a half, becoming overrun with vegetation, i told a friend just the other day that i was thinking of bringing in pygmy goats. we'll always have our private sources of fresh milk. you folks in the cities are screwed.
posted by bruce at 8:03 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


The artisinal cheese lobby is obviously falling down on the job
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:04 AM on June 10


Its also something you see in like UC-Davis grads working in the wine world. They were taught a "right" way to make wine, and goddammit that's how they are going to make wine.
posted by JPD at 8:04 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


Bourbon on the other hand is always aged in new, charred oak casks every time. Yep. Every batch of bourbon requires a brand new set of casks to be created every time. A lot of the old casks get sent to Scotland to age Scotch.

Not to mention that most (no?) bacteria can't live in a solution of 50%+ ethanol.
posted by JPD at 8:05 AM on June 10 [6 favorites]


Our Dystopian Future!
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:06 AM on June 10



From Reason's summary:

Many of the most awarded and well-respected American cheeses are aged on wooden boards, according to Cheese Underground. "The very pillar that we built our niche business on is the ability to age our cheese on wood planks, an art that has been practiced in Europe for thousands of years," Wisconsin cheesemaker Chris Roelli—who developed his cheese recipes specifically to be aged on wooden boards—told the blog.

Not allowing American cheesemakers to use this practice puts them "at a global disadvantage because the flavor produced by aging on wood can not be duplicated. This is a major game changer for the dairy industry in Wisconsin, and many other states."

Cheesemakers importing to the United States will be subject to the same wooden board ban, which in effect means we'll just miss out on a lot of cheese imports. The European Union—not generally known to fuck around on food safety—is totally cool with the use of wood boards in aging cheese (as is Canada). In fact, certain types of cheese must be aged on wood in order to get the designation (Comte, Beaufort, Reblochon).

posted by vacapinta at 8:06 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


I sure hope the FDA next does something about all the mold in cheese. I mean some cheeses are sold completely encased in the stuff! And that blue cheese seems practically rotten. Revolting.
posted by Nelson at 8:06 AM on June 10 [9 favorites]


Wooden barrels are used repeatedly for beer. Bacteria persist in the wood from batch to batch. This is a feature. Same goes for cheese, I expect.
posted by No Robots at 8:07 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Not to mention that most (no?) bacteria can't live in a solution of 50%+ ethanol.

Not to mention that whiskey is aged at higher proof and then watered down for bottling.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:08 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Gah! Not the Limburger! I love the stuff!
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:08 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


A lot of the old casks get sent to Scotland to age Scotch.
So Scotch is next??
posted by MtDewd at 8:08 AM on June 10


Everyone! Don't worry, you can make Limburger at home!

As long as your home is very well-equipped and you are a cheese-making expert.

...but, seriously, is there anything that can be done about this asshole Metz? Or are we just screwed and I need to resign myself fewer nice cheeses?
posted by aramaic at 8:09 AM on June 10


I sure hope the FDA next does something about all the mold in cheese. I mean some cheeses are sold completely encased in the stuff! And that blue cheese seems practically rotten. Revolting.

It ain't just cheese!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:10 AM on June 10


Time to move to Europe.
posted by sedna17 at 8:11 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


i believe that it IS corporate shills.

Ding ding ding! Yes. The Wikipedia article on the FSMA says this:
According to maplight.org,[32] large trade organizations have joined public health advocates in supporting the bill, while groups aligned with individuals and small farms have generally opposed it. However, after Senate adoption of Jon Tester's amendment, which allows for the possible exemption of producers that sell less than $500,000 a year,[33] many large food companies objected, arguing that the exemption puts consumers at risk.[34]
Here's what the FSMA has to say about rule-making:
(a) In general
The Secretary shall, in coordination with the Secretary of Agriculture, not less frequently than every 2 years, review and evaluate relevant health data and other relevant information, including from toxicological and epidemiological studies and analyses, current Good Manufacturing Practices issued by the Secretary relating to food, and relevant recommendations of relevant advisory committees, including the Food Advisory Committee, to determine the most significant foodborne contaminants.

(b) Guidance documents and regulations
Based on the review and evaluation conducted under subsection (a), and when appropriate to reduce the risk of serious illness or death to humans or animals or to prevent adulteration of the food under section 342 of this title or to prevent the spread by food of communicable disease under section 264 of title 42, the Secretary shall issue contaminant-specific and science-based guidance documents, including guidance documents regarding action levels, or regulations. Such guidance, including guidance regarding action levels, or regulations—
(1) shall apply to products or product classes;
(2) shall, where appropriate, differentiate between food for human consumption and food intended for consumption by animals other than humans; and
(3) shall not be written to be facility-specific.
Which, as written, this law seems pretty much reasonable. Rules must be product (or product-class) specific, be based upon scientific evidence, and the evidence review must incorporate epidemiological studies or analyses. There is no epidemiological information to suggest that wood-aged cheeses actually constitute a health threat. And one of the research papers the FDA cited in their decision actually concludes that it safe to age cheese on wood.

I think the cited paper might be the review by Coudé and Wendorff in this publication, but I'm not sure, because I haven't been able to find the actual letter that the FDA sent out. The very last sentence in the review concludes:
Finally, considering the beneficial effects of wood boards on cheese ripening and rind formation, the use of wood boards does not seem to present any danger of contamination by pathogenic bacteria as long as a thorough cleaning procedure is followed.
The FDA decision does not seem like a correct application of the law. Although they shouldn't have to, artisinal cheesemakers could probably fight this in court.
posted by compartment at 8:15 AM on June 10 [27 favorites]


So, we're going to keep Americans safe by preventing them from eating artisanal cheeses aged on wooden boards, but we're just going to continue to accept stuff like chicken being full of salmonella as normal.

Man, I know you can tell me that the obvious double standards arose because of blah-blah-blah, but our priorities are seriously whack.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:16 AM on June 10 [21 favorites]


It's rather un-American of me, but I shrugged until I got to the part that this would affect imports as well. I can't imagine life without good cheese. I think I need to rearrange my house for cheese storage. How big are parmigiano reggiano wheels?

(On preview: actually, it's super-American of me to shrug until I figure out how it affects me. I've never felt this patriotic...)
posted by sfkiddo at 8:17 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


> Um, folks, before we go off on our usual anti-corporate rants here I'd just like to point out that Cabot's parent company, Agri-Mark Inc., makes close to a billion in sales each year.

Kraft Foods (US$18.2 B) makes more than that per month.

Unilever (US$67.5 B) makes more than that per week.
posted by at by at 8:18 AM on June 10 [8 favorites]


As a French friend's father said while proffering a room-temperature chevre on an old wooden cutting board, "Often our cheese is more meat than milk". His wife and her sister canned their own fois gras de canard, and he distilled his own Armagnac.

Yeah, the foie gras is already gone, home distillation is kind of sketchy and now the Cheese goes next.
posted by vacapinta at 8:20 AM on June 10


the foie gras is already gone, whoa whoa whoa. Not all of us live in states with savages.

Though I will note that the big Hudson Valley FG producer actually goes to the Greenmarkets under a different name to sell their meat.
posted by JPD at 8:21 AM on June 10


How big are parmigiano reggiano wheels?

Sixty to seventy pounds when they're two to three years old (I was the receiver for a while when I worked in cheese at Whole Foods). Younger, and therefore wetter, they're going to be heavier, and I'm not sure you'd even be able to get un-aged wheels shipped here from Italy Once it's reached a certain point in the aging process, it has quite a thick rind, and so the kind of surface it rests on (and the air that surrounds it) it less relevant.

/cheese nerdery
posted by rtha at 8:22 AM on June 10 [9 favorites]


Yes, because salty fat-and-sugar laden junk food is fine, but cheese that has actual flavor and will satisfy your appetite with just a tiny serving is dangerous. Argh.
posted by miyabo at 8:25 AM on June 10 [6 favorites]


Didn't think to mention before the edit window closed, but the numbers I cited for Kraft and Unilever were their 2013 revenue totals, via Wikipedia.
posted by at by at 8:26 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


I'm trying to figure out the procedural situation here. Usually, when a federal agency issues a new policy, they have to conduct a formal rule-making, which involves printing the proposed rule in the Federal Register and taking public comments, then responding to those comments in the final rule, which is also published in the Federal Register.

From the FPP, it looks like the FDA is claiming that this isn't a new rule, but merely clarification of an existing policy, and as such doesn't have to go through the formal procedures set forth in the Administrative Procedures Act.

I find that argument... lacking. In fact, I suspect that this may well be the hook that the small cheese producers can use to get the FDA into court. They can argue that (a) the FDA violated the APA by not going through rule-making; and (b) the FDA violated the APA by making an arbitrary and capricious decision w/rt the use of wood boards. That there is sound science backing the use of wood boards, and the FDA knew it, tends to indicate a certain level of capriciousness.
posted by suelac at 8:27 AM on June 10 [7 favorites]


Bourbon is aged in wood. Why is that any different?

Bacterial contamination is presumably less of a risk with booze.


Yes, and the word "aged" means totally different things in these two situations. With bourbon, bacteria is a bad thing and you want to avoid it ever being a part of your process. Instead, yeast is used to ferment sugars from corn and grains into alcohol. That alcohol is then distilled into more or less a neutral spirit like vodka mostly made up of alcohol and water. The ageing process is where that alcohol is put into charred whiskey barrels where it leeches chemicals and caramelized sugars from the wood, but there's not anything alive in the barrel at that point. So aged bourbon is basically just vodka that has been soaked in charred wood for a long time in a relatively sterile environment. Any time after distillation happens, the solution always has a very high alcohol content that makes it hard for harmful bacteria to live in it.

Ageing for cheese is a lot more complicated and personally I don't know how a lot of it works in detail, but depending on the cheese both bacteria and fungi can be used along with purely chemical transformations to break down the components of the cheese. The main point is that unlike bourbon that is uninhabitable for most wild bacteria for most of the process, with cheese aging there is a much bigger risk of unwanted bacteria to get into the cheese and out-competing the intended harmless bacteria. The standard way to deal with this kind of issue with food in general is sterilization or pasteurization, which is a fancy way of saying nuke the food until the bad stuff is probably dead, but the problem with cheese is that you're killing the good stuff along with the bad stuff. There's an inherent risk there if you want eat food that has living stuff in it, even if that living stuff is healthy and tastes good, because bacteria that can kill you can live in most places where the healthy stuff can live and a lot of times it's not obvious that contamination has happened until people start getting sick. There's always going to be a trade off in those kinds of processes between making food that tastes good and has the components you want versus making sure that you do enough to prevent people from being harmed from eating it.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:29 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


And just a wild guess, but I'd bet that slashing the FDA's budget would result, not in no dollars to implement these new rules, but would instead result in halting clinical trails and drug approvals.
posted by tyllwin at 8:31 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


One FPP article (linked as "to import") links to a FDA contact page for those of us who want to call, send letters, or email the FDA. CTRL+F for Ms. Metz:

http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FederalStateFoodPrograms/ucm114736.htm
posted by Atrahasis at 8:32 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


Also a whole wheel of truly aged parmigiano is valuable. Not expensive, valuable, it's value grows with time. There are special bank departments in Italy devoted to giving loans to farmers wile keeping wheels of parmigiano reggiano and grana padana in special cheese aging bank volts as a deposit.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 8:34 AM on June 10 [15 favorites]


tyllwin, congress has authority to slash the FDA's budget in fine-tuned areas.
posted by bruce at 8:35 AM on June 10


They can argue that (a) the FDA violated the APA by not going through rule-making; and (b) the FDA violated the APA by making an arbitrary and capricious decision w/rt the use of wood boards. That there is sound science backing the use of wood boards, and the FDA knew it, tends to indicate a certain level of capriciousness.

How likely is it that a court is going to side with cheesemakers against the FDA, instead of just giving the FDA as a regulatory agency the benefit of the doubt if they just stand up there and say "your honor, it's complicated, we're the experts, these people are just dumb hippies". I could imagine some judges would be reluctant to rule against a regulatory agency's internal decisionmaking processes.

Is there precedent for doing that against the FDA?
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:37 AM on June 10




There are special bank departments in Italy devoted to giving loans to farmers wile keeping wheels of parmigiano reggiano and grana padana in special cheese aging bank volts as a deposit.

This is the best thing I've learned in a while, and needs to be featured centrally in a parody of The Italian Job, starring an ensemble cast of TV chefs and food critics.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:39 AM on June 10 [6 favorites]


Is there precedent for doing that against the FDA?

I would argue that we (cheese-loving people) need to borrow the playbook from the "nutritional supplement" industry, who managed to avoid most oversight by deft politics and rabble-rousing TV ads.
posted by aramaic at 8:39 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Soon you will be able to smoke legal weed at an exclusive speakeasy that serves black-market raw milk and underground artisanal cheese. If you are lucky enough to live in NYC, you may even have the opportunity to drink a deeply illegal 64oz soft drink.

Watch as former drug cartels start to spin up cheese making operations in out-of-the-way cheese caves around the world.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:41 AM on June 10 [4 favorites]


Solid Assets, Cash For Cheese

note wooden shelves.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:44 AM on June 10


Kraft Foods (US$18.2 B) makes more than that per month.

Unilever (US$67.5 B) makes more than that per week.


And that puts them at #'s 6 and 18 in the largest dairy companies (Aka the Dairy 100) in the US (Agri-Mark is 38). Of course #8 Dairy Farmers of America and #9 Lactalis wouldn't be pleased as they are major importers of board aged cheeses (along with 32 Frontera, 37 Davisco, 55 Grande, 68 BelGioioso, and largest producer in Parma #72 Sartori) who would be majorly impacted by this action. Incidentally, here's a picture of the runner up for the (#1) Nestle prize for sustainable agriculture displaying his products.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:48 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Putting an end to so many good cheeses is hard to think about. I -- I camembert.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:50 AM on June 10 [7 favorites]


Years ago I heard a story about a French cheesemaker visiting some American counterparts. They showed him a huge vat of un-solid milk going through its paces. The French are a tactile race. He went in with both hands to check on how the stuff was doing.

His hosts had to throw out the entire vat.

On a more personal level, I have to say, this could finally be the deal breaker. If they really start coming down on real parmesan, the Jones Family could well be upping stakes for good.

Kraft Foods (US$18.2 B) makes more than that per month

Maybe a fifth of Kraft's output is cheese. Hell, even the cheese is arguably not cheese.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:56 AM on June 10


From the FPP, it looks like the FDA is claiming that this isn't a new rule, but merely clarification of an existing policy, and as such doesn't have to go through the formal procedures set forth in the Administrative Procedures Act.

Yes. The previous ruling is clear about the sort of surfaces that can and cannot be used in the preparation of food for sale, and wood is clearly in the "cannot" of that rule.

The NY FDA (and presumably others) had allowed, in their inspections, the use of wood boards in cheese making, but the federal rule doesn't have that exemption in place. By the written rule, it's illegal and has been for some time.

I suspect that what will happen is a formal appeal, asserting that the use of wood for aging cheese is safe so long as reasonable procedures are used in the cleaning and upkeep of those boards.

Where that goes, I don't know -- I think there's enough evidence that it's safe, but I haven't seen all of it, and I don't know how many cases of illness have resulted from these cheese, or how that rate (illness per unit of cheese sold) compares to cheeses made without wooden boards.

I know people have gotten sick from them -- but I know people have gotten sick from cheeses made without wooden boards. The real question is "does wooden boards significantly increase the rate of illness per unit?" If so, then the FDA has a valid point and should take action, either to mandate a proper cleansing/maintenance regime to bring that rate down, or to ban altogether. If not, then the rule should have an exception for aging cheeses.

The reason things like this will crop up is that it is practically impossible to legislate in all the exceptions at the start, because there are so many of them. You try to write a comprehensive rule, then you rule on the edge cases as they come in. I fully accept the general rule of not using porous surfaces for food prep -- but we allow the exception of cutting boards because truly non-porous and durable surfaces like steel damage knives so much that they create a new safety issue, one believed worse that properly maintained wood/plastic cutting boards.

(Personally? Plastic, in the dishwasher after basically each use, and I have six of them. Wood can be just as safe, but for wet cutting, I just prefer plastic.)
posted by eriko at 8:57 AM on June 10 [8 favorites]


You guys know that you don't have to speculate about how big the specialty cheese market is, right? That you can just look it up? More info on artisan cheese here.
posted by klangklangston at 8:57 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


I believe there are only two reasonable American responses to this:

1) From my cold, dead hands.

2) WHAAARGAAARBL.

I mean seriously what the fuck. People have been making cheese like this for centuries if not millennia. The problems are pretty well worked out by now.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:59 AM on June 10 [4 favorites]


The real question is "does wooden boards significantly increase the rate of illness per unit?"

There is also "Does it decrease the rate of illness per unit?" There is some evidence that a diverse microbial ecosystem in the cheesemaking environment will outcompete pathogens like listeria. So this ban could be doing more harm than help.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:03 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Hopefully, all the smaller independent cheesemakers can band together to fight this and provide evidence that wood-board-aging is safe. If they have allies supplying additional proof, it won't be something they have to provolone.
posted by LionIndex at 9:04 AM on June 10 [6 favorites]


How likely is it that a court is going to side with cheesemakers against the FDA, instead of just giving the FDA as a regulatory agency the benefit of the doubt

It's pretty likely. There's a case known as Chevron which grants deference to agencies when they are regulating in their known area of expertise. You grant deference to the EPA in its evaluation of the risks posed by chemical contaminants in groundwater, but not in their evaluation of impacts on a prehistoric archaeological site.

So in this case, the FDA would be granted deference by the court because food safety is its area of expertise. Which is not to say they can't still lose: but the plaintiff would have to show they arbitrarily and capriciously ignored substantive evidence in favor of using wood boards. It's a difficult standard to meet, but not impossible.
posted by suelac at 9:05 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


So where in all of this are the numbers to support the idea that board aged cheese has caused illness? when an e.coli outbreak takes down folks we get exact numbers, and often within a short time the source (taco bell, a batch of chicken from producer x, cantaloupe from mexico, etc) is identified.
have there, in fact, been cheese related deaths?
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:05 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


There is some evidence that a diverse microbial ecosystem in the cheesemaking environment will outcompete pathogens like listeria. So this could be doing more harm than help.

Not to mention the increasing evidence that diverse microbial ecosystems are necessary for human health. Sanitizing the cheese-making process might have other, health-related, impacts beyond the loss of awesome artisanal cheeses.
posted by suelac at 9:06 AM on June 10 [6 favorites]


Cheese alert.
posted by jeather at 9:11 AM on June 10 [4 favorites]


Are there any citizen groups or organizations trying to fight this legally, or even at the grassroots level through making cheese locally or what have you?

I know the government routinely does horrible things so there is no reason I should be in disbelief this is really going to stand but I actually am. This is where I wonder whether they have any actual health researchers at all looking at health research when they implement policies--- because it appears routinely that actual research on health has nothing to do with the regulations they make and rather it's based on complaints and desires of businesses that leverage power over them.

Gross. It's so fucking gross.
posted by xarnop at 9:12 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


have there, in fact, been cheese related deaths?

Yes, very recently in fact. But not so much due to wood-aging as stuff like: the roof leaking so badly that water was raining down into the cheese processing room, including onto the cheese processing equipment and storage tanks
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:12 AM on June 10 [4 favorites]


So it looks like the FDA is to liberals as the EPA is to conservatives
posted by TedW at 9:13 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


(To be fair, there have been other outbreaks that have not been totally root-caused, as well as listeria in imports from Europe)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:16 AM on June 10


I've put a considerable amount of time reading about formaldehyde in schools and how it impacts child health and learning, and why the shit we don't have actual professionals using this kind of information to create policies that actually reflect the needs of human beings for clean air and water etc.

But we have professionals who have plenty of time to pull this crap under the claims that it COULD hypothetically harbor bacteria without even providing a body of evidence this is a real concern? WTF.
posted by xarnop at 9:17 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Wooden boards, which have been an integral part of aging a wide variety of cheeses by producers around the world for more than a century, were called unsanitary by an FDA official

"Sanitary" is overrated.

every bureaucracy needs to grow. . . [and] justify their existence and their budgets, which means that we need new threats and new regulations. . . . there's also data creep - once you can track or regulate something, there's a huge impulse to do so even if there's no obvious purpose.

Yeah, it's the Metrics denomination of the Church of Scientism. Practitioners of this ideology often conflate "easy to measure" with "important to measure".

See also CYA.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:18 AM on June 10


> Why do all the militias have to be for red-state rednecks? How about a militia to defend craft beer and artisanal cheese?

The Sheeple Awake. Not a John Brunner manuscript.
posted by jfuller at 9:19 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Okay, today after work I am going to the cheese store. Time to stock up.

yeah I didn't plan ever to buy a wheel of parmesan because it will take me years to eat my way through it but now it is on my shopping list for friday.

I'm so glad I live less than thirty miles from four different cheesemakers. I wasn't joking about making friends with them - they will be useful contacts in the grimdark future.
posted by winna at 9:21 AM on June 10


Winna: for bonus fun points once you've really dug into your wheel, make a nice risotto and finish it by pouring it into the depression and stirring a lot.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:23 AM on June 10


Finally, a market for my new process to produce planks from rat excrement and infectious medical waste!
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:23 AM on June 10


I've picked up brewing and winemaking as hobbies because it's awesome to have a hobby with such immediate and enjoyable artifacts. I've looked at adding cheesemaking as a hobby both for the blessings and because it pairs so well with winemaking. The problem being that the ingredients weren't easily come by. In my last trip to the the LHBS I saw shelf devoted to cheesemaking kits as well as various ingredients.

And now I'm a bit more motivated to give this a try.
posted by Fezboy! at 9:25 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Is there anything we can DO about this????
posted by harrietthespy at 9:27 AM on June 10 [4 favorites]


This is about Listeria monocytogenes, which is a problem that there really are no great solutions for in an industrial or home setting aside from obsessive cleaning of surfaces, it is in so many ways to perfect bug to fuck up and spread terror through our food system. It is facultatively anaerobic so neither starving it of oxygen or exposing it to oxygen does a anything, it grows just fine in a refrigerator so keeping food cold doesn't do a damn thing to prevent its growth, and it uses a quorum sensing mechanism in its hosts to prevent virulence until it grows to a point where the immune system can't do a damn thing about it - not that the immune system could do much anyway with it being intracellular - allowing it to be infectious in absurdly low doses. It also causes a whole plethora of horrific diseases that are near impossible to effectively treat, its near impossible to detect at the lower levels that can still easily infect people, the tests that we do have each take at least 72 hours, and the only things that kill it other than heat make food taste spoiled. People have been making cheese by aging it on wood for an awful long time, but people have also been dying painful deaths through Listeria that are unaddressable by anything but prevention for a long time too.

What has happened here is that after the FDA found detectable Listeria in a poorly maintained cheese making facility in New York (Here is the warning letter), the regional office asked the central division of the FDA for clarification. It then has apparently found itself unconvinced by the adequacy of the ad hoc regulatory structures built by the various States that have weighed in on ways to mitigate contact with uncleaned surfaces.

If anyone can find the rest of the statement said to have been given by Monica Metz by the cheeseunderground blogspot I'd be grateful for the opportunity to actually read her case for the inadequacy of the various local regulations. The blogspot has google bombed all the queries I can think of and none of the articles linked here or the major ones floating around the internet appear to provide any evidence of their authors having read it.
"i believe that it IS corporate shills. every bite of artisanal cheese you take is one less Kraft single sold. the poultry industry, tyson, perdue, is big enough to have lobbyists and take regulators out to fancy four-star vacations every year."
The artisinal cheese market is truly insignificant to major food producers, you know what they would all love though? An army of concerned white voters with google degrees in microbiology to exert de-regulatory influence on the FDA through congress.

Our regulatory structures for the food industry are built to protect people eating food, which comes from the industrial processes capable of actually feeding three hundred million people, and it seems that in this instance they may be unfortunately not really built to handle momentary entertainment for rich people that well. Sorry, its not about you, and it shouldn't be. We live in an era created by how gastrointestinal infections, just a hundred years ago the third leading cause of death, have been either pushed to extinction in the Western world or had their virulence actively selected against to the point where they are mostly just hilarious rather than a source of banally routine tragedy. This utterly profound change came from exactly the focus that is turning out to be inconvenient for people who like stinky cheese, the obsessive adherence to evidence based hygenic practices like Clean-In-Place technology and rigorous microbiological standards that at least have a hard time working well with undefined cultures or food contact surfaces left alone for years at a time.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:34 AM on June 10 [63 favorites]


Is there anything we can DO about this????

Cleanse our government of dipshits and corporate moles/shills.
posted by Pudhoho at 9:35 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:37 AM on June 10


"Cleanse our government of dipshits and corporate moles/shills."
If indeed this is a problem, it is a problem of insufficient corporate money in government protecting cheese makers.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:38 AM on June 10


eriko: “The previous ruling is clear about the sort of surfaces that can and cannot be used in the preparation of food for sale, and wood is clearly in the 'cannot' of that rule.”

I disagree. The previous ruling, which is 21 CFR 110.40(a), says this:
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. The design, construction, and use of equipment and utensils shall preclude the adulteration of food with lubricants, fuel, metal fragments, contaminated water, or any other contaminants. All equipment should be so installed and maintained as to facilitate the cleaning of the equipment and of all adjacent spaces. Food-contact surfaces shall be corrosion-resistant when in contact with food. They shall be made of nontoxic materials and designed to withstand the environment of their intended use and the action of food, and, if applicable, cleaning compounds and sanitizing agents. Food-contact surfaces shall be maintained to protect food from being contaminated by any source, including unlawful indirect food additives.
It is not clear to me that this description precludes wood. The question is whether wood is "adequately cleanable." You are saying that wood "clearly" is not "adequately cleanable." I do not think that that is clear.
posted by koeselitz at 9:39 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]


I don't know a whole lot about this, but my brother has his PhD in microbiology from and his dissertation/primary focus of research was listeria - and he thinks this ruling/enforcement action is BS.
posted by misskaz at 9:40 AM on June 10 [13 favorites]


"It is not clear to me that this description precludes wood. The question is whether wood is "adequately cleanable." You are saying that wood "clearly" is not "adequately cleanable." I do not think that that is clear."
The blogspot is more than fluent enough to be clearly dishonest rather than ignorant, but the FDA has been clear about removing wood from food processing areas for Ready To Eat food in a more general sense for a long time.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:42 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


had their virulence actively selected against

How did that happen? (Not doubting your assertion, just curious.)
posted by compartment at 9:43 AM on June 10


> And that puts them at #'s 6 and 18 in the largest dairy companies (Aka the Dairy 100) in the US (Agri-Mark is 38). Of course #8 Dairy Farmers of America and #9 Lactalis wouldn't be pleased as they are major importers of board aged cheeses (along with 32 Frontera, 37 Davisco, 55 Grande, 68 BelGioioso, and largest producer in Parma #72 Sartori) who would be majorly impacted by this action.

Inasmuch as it could be true that regulators were bought, I think it's more a function of net profit as well: If Nestle and Kraft are clearing more revenue and profit on factory cheese than on craft cheese -- and I think it's safe to assume they are -- they will be willing to sacrifice those facilities and imports into the US in order to shut down competition that threatens their margins.

> The person that this is coming from at the FDA is Monica Metz, head of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition's Dairy and Egg Branch. Prior to working for the FDA Metz worked for the world's largest industrial producer of mozzarella. Yes, there really is a Big Cheese and it really is involved here.

That's not how the quid pro quo would work. If Metz or her colleagues are on the take, the private sector jobs they move to after leaving government will be more revealing than the ones they held beforehand.
posted by at by at 9:47 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Whitehouse.gov petition
SAVE OUR CHEESE
posted by stoneweaver at 9:47 AM on June 10 [4 favorites]


This is lousy rule making. Reflects badly on the FDA and on regulatory bodies in the US generally.

This right here is where I let conspiracy theories sneak into my brain. Whenever a regulatory agency does something totally over the line, I can't help but suspect it's right-wingers doing it intentionally to be all "see? regulation doesn't work! Time for small government!" Same goes for Stephen Harper appointing Duffy and Brazeau and the like to the Senate.
posted by Hoopo at 9:47 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


> (Personally? Plastic, in the dishwasher after basically each use, and I have six of them. Wood can be just as safe, but for wet cutting, I just prefer plastic.)

This is a critical factor. Plastic preparation surfaces can be machine washed. Wood can't.
posted by at by at 9:48 AM on June 10


This is about Listeria monocytogenes, which is a problem that there really are no great solutions for in an industrial or home setting aside from obsessive cleaning of surfaces, it is in so many ways to perfect bug to fuck up and spread terror through our food system.

And yet European cheese makers have been getting along fine.

This study aimed at determining if microbial diversity can be an asset to guarantee the microbial safety of raw milk cheeses. Our results show that microbial consortia from the surface of raw milk cheeses can self-protect against Listeria monocytogenes. Indeed, 10 complex microbial consortia among 34 tested from the surfaces of raw milk Saint-Nectaire cheeses were particularly effective for reducing the growth of L. monocytogenes on cheese surfaces in comparison of a commercial ripening culture, despite the high pH values on the surfaces.

I mean France does have the INRA and other institutions and have been obsessively studying the cheese microbe ecosystem.

Does it sound plausible that the FDA suddenly knows more than France about cheese?
posted by vacapinta at 9:52 AM on June 10 [21 favorites]


From the CDC:
Estimates
CDC estimates that approximately 1600 illnesses and 260 deaths due to listeriosis occur annually in the United States 1.
Incidence
The average annual incidence in the United States was 0.29 cases per 100,000 population for 2009—2011 2.
Trends
Compared to 1996-1998, the incidence of listeriosis had declined by about 37% by 2001 3. On average from 1998-2008, 2.2 outbreaks per year were reported to CDC 4. The largest listeriosis outbreak in U.S. history occurred in 2011, when 147 illnesses, 33 deaths, and 1 miscarriage occurred among residents of 28 states; the outbreak was associated with consumption of cantaloupe from a single farm 5.

posted by OHenryPacey at 9:52 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Thanks for adding some factual perspective to our cheese-eating outrage, Blasdelb. Listeria is truly dangerous, awful contamination, a real hazard in cheesemaking.

What's so frustrating is the American exceptionalism at work. All of Europe manages to make cheeses with traditional methods, with unpasteurized milk, and the result is remarkably safe. European food regulations are generally stricter, but they are sensible. (Also, the cheese is better). But the US has to go its own way. It's a lot like the health care debate; at least fewer people will die because of stupid American cheese laws.

It's also frustrating because this new ruling will mostly harm small cheese producers who have no lobbying power. And because it's so poorly aimed, when salmonella and E. Coli contamination in meat is a much more significant health risk. Not to mention the systemic risk from allowing antibiotics in cattle feed.
posted by Nelson at 9:54 AM on June 10 [9 favorites]


This is a cause taken up by libertarians and conservatives to prove their point about too much regulation.

Before you get too excited, I strongly suggest heading to the FDA website to read the law, including exceptions for small local producers.
posted by Sir Cholmondeley at 9:54 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


the outbreak was associated with consumption of cantaloupe from a single farm

IOW, not cheese.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:57 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


This utterly profound change came from exactly the focus that is turning out to be inconvenient for people who like stinky cheese, the obsessive adherence to evidence based hygenic practices like Clean-In-Place technology and rigorous microbiological standards that at least have a hard time working well with undefined cultures or food contact surfaces left alone for years at a time.

See, as a broad generality I agree with all the "it's not about you" business - and if there were evidence that wood cheese-aging boards were a significant contributor to this issue, particularly globally, I'd agree that we just need to give up on the cheese.

But even in that case you link, the listeria was found mostly not on the cheese boards, and it looks like the person just basically failed to clean all the things even after being requested to do so. The other situation linked upthread, where someone actually died, had nothing to do with cheese boards and everything to do with a leaking roof, standing water, uncapped vats and all kinds of non-wood grossness. The problem seems to be much more that some cheesemakers have really lousy facilities and either are not inspected often enough or don't respond to inspections until things are terrible. This - alongside the lack of, like, parmesan-related deaths - seems to suggest that without a better inspection regime, we still aren't going to have safe cheese, and the mere presence of wood cheeseboards doesn't change things much one way or the other.

If the choice is "insufficient inspection, listeria, crisis and parmesan" or "insufficient inspection, listeria, crisis and no parmesan", I know which I'm choosing.
posted by Frowner at 10:02 AM on June 10 [17 favorites]


My idea for artisanal, wooden tupperware is starting to sound like it could run into trouble.
posted by orme at 10:10 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


So to the "Europe does it" department: Increasing Incidence of Listeriosis in France and Other European Countries:
From 1999 through 2005, the incidence of listeriosis in France declined from 4.5 to 3.5 cases/million persons. In 2006, it increased to 4.7 cases/million persons...
Compare to the 2.9 per million mentioned by OHenryPacey above.

If you want to talk about whether 2 cases per million persons is a significant difference, that's fine, Europe seems to have collectively said that they think the trade-off is worth it (and in a world with private automobiles, any single digits per million risk factor seems "in the noise"), but let's have the discussion including those numbers of illnesses and deaths as a part of the trade-off.
posted by straw at 10:12 AM on June 10 [6 favorites]


Estimated Number of cases of Listeria monocytogenes per year in the USA - 1600, with a 16% death rate.

Ok, not good. But campylobacter, clostridium perfringens, and salmonella were all over a million cases per year, and those are no picnic.

Norovirus was 5.5 million cases for 2011 - 1,600 doesn't sound so bad.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 10:12 AM on June 10


A variance of 2:1,000,000 is probably statistical noise.
posted by Nelson at 10:15 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


There may be pressure from Big Cheese, but I would think that Big Cheese In Europe (i.e., places like Italy that export literally tons and tons of cheese to the U.S.) would be exerting pressure on the U.S. governement, somehow, somewhere.
posted by Melismata at 10:15 AM on June 10


Metafilter : An army of concerned white voters with google degrees in microbiology.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:15 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


PenDevil: "The mob will be running wood aged cheese from Canada into back room "cheese-easys" in no time."

We also would have accepted "speak-cheesy'.
posted by boo_radley at 10:17 AM on June 10 [16 favorites]


Blasdelb: "had their virulence actively selected against"

compartment: "How did that happen? (Not doubting your assertion, just curious.)"
This is a bit off topic, but something I'm really into so I'd like to share,

Virulence is an abstraction of the harm caused to hosts by a pathogen, and explaining the paradox of virulence has been an active field of study in evolution for a while. Indeed, being interesting to people who want virulence to go away, its a way to both study evolution and get paid. In general the harm caused to the hosts of pathogens is not great for the pathogen, after all, why hurt or lose a useful host? However, in studying the abstraction with basic research, we've found that virulence is almost always is part of helping the pathogen find a new host. Thus the generalized answer to the paradox is that so long as the harm to the host causes the parasite to spread effectively enough, it doesn't really matter how much harm is caused to the host - as the parasite will have already found new hosts to spread from. At the same time, helpful bacteria don't have nearly the same need to spread as pathogenic ones, as they keep their hosts happy and alive and can stick around for longer.

The spectrum between virulence and mutualism can be seen as a trade off between two strategies, or of course often a mix between the two. A critter existing in community with another one can care little for its host and be as infectious as possible at the host's expense, thus increasing virulence. In this strategy it doesn't matter so much that the host becomes quickly unsuitable because the parasite has already found replacement hosts sneezed on, or transmitted to, by the time that happens. Or it can do the opposite and try its best to reduce impact on the host, spread infectious particles slowly or even not at all, and thus not need to spread too quickly because it will last a while in each host. Most of the critters that live in our guts and on our skin are at that end of the spectrum, and have become so adept at not messing up their host as to actually benefit us in some way. On the other end of the spectrum are parasitoids. These are the parasites that not only fuck up their host in their race to infect as many more hosts as possible, but spend the majority of their life cycle doing so and ultimately sterilize or kill, and sometimes consume the host in the process. The Xenomorphs from the movie Alien are a beautiful example of a bunch of these sorts of parasitiod strategies, each inspired by real terrifying stuff in nature. This might all seem uselessly theoretical, but the implications it has for public health are really cool.

Before the 1930s, we lived with Staphylococcus aureus strains on our skin that existed in a complex mixture of mutualistic and virulent strategies, but antibiotics suddenly applied very strong selective pressure against any vaguely virulent strategy. Anyone with a nasty bug could just pop a pill and reset their skin. Thus, following the model, the observed sudden decrease in both virulence and transmissibility of virulent strains makes a lot of sense. However, the sudden increase in both virulence and transmissibility of virulent strains that we’ve seen in multi-drug resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) strains also makes sense. Indeed, if you look back far enough in the literature all of the crazy "new" and terrible virulence factors we are now seeing in MRSA strains all existed before the 1930s. For example, while the pyomyositis and necrotizing pneumonia we are now seeing is commonly associated with poverty, tropical climates and HIV, ie: things which didn’t get much attention prior to 1935, it was described. (At lest with this source you’ll need to wade your way past the kinds of phrases that start with “Africans are not different from any other humans, however, …” to page 1214) Until recently it would not be terribly remarkable, being easily addressed with a simple round of I.V. antibiotics. I recently found a reference in my Robbins Basic Pathology (8th ed.) which confirms that Staphylococcus aureus, as well as Klebsiella pneumoniae and Streptococcus pyogenes, has been implicated in causing necrotizing pneumonia since the turn of the century. Additionally, the PVL toxin which that first paper describes as now being found in pneumonia was initially discovered by Van deVelde in 1894 and was named after Sir Philip Noel Panton and Francis Valentine when they associated it with soft tissue infections in 1932. All of this makes logical sense anyhow, the mechanisms of antibiotic resistance are not associated with pathogenesis.

I guess this is all a kind of long winded introduction to how removing virulence as an effective strategy for intestinal pathogens through cGMP (the "current Good Manufacturing Practices" that are being discussed here) have not only made intestinal infection less common, but also less shitty. When causing someone such nasty diarrhea that they resemble a poop rocket doesn't work so well to cause other people illness because they stay home from work at the plant that day, and wash their hands everyday before work, and all of the surfaces they touch get cleaned obsessively, and of the surfaces that the food touches get cleaned obsessively, and all the little counter-intuitive things that you learn getting a degree in food industry, the bugs that ail us then get less nasty.

For more advanced readers here are two papers that empirically demonstrate this model,
Timing of transmission and the evolution of virulence of an insect virus.
JC de Roode, AJ Yates, & S Altizer. Published 2002 in Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B doi:10.1098/rspb.2002.1976
We used the nuclear polyhedrosis virus of the gypsy moth, Lymantria dispar, to investigate whether the timing of transmission influences the evolution of virulence. In theory, early transmission should favour rapid replication and increase virulence, while late transmission should favour slower replication and reduce virulence. We tested this prediction by subjecting one set of 10 virus lineages to early transmission (Early viruses) and another set to late transmission (Late viruses). Each lineage of virus underwent nine cycles of transmission. Virulence assays on these lineages indicated that viruses transmitted early were significantly more lethal than those transmitted late. Increased exploitation of the host appears to come at a cost, however. While Early viruses initially produced more progeny, Late viruses were ultimately more productive over the entire duration of the infection. These results illustrate fitness trade-offs associated with the evolution of virulence and indicate that milder viruses can obtain a numerical advantage when mild and harmful strains tend to infect separate hosts.

Virulence-transmission trade-offs and population divergence in virulence in a naturally occurring butterfly parasite (PDF).
VS Cooper, MH Reiskind, et al. Published 2002 in PNAS doi:10.1073/pnas.0710909105
Why do parasites harm their hosts? Conventional wisdom holds that because parasites depend on their hosts for survival and transmission, they should evolve to become benign, yet many parasites cause harm. Theory predicts that parasites could evolve virulence (i.e., parasite-induced reductions in host fitness) by balancing the transmission benefits of parasite replication with the costs of host death. This idea has led researchers to predict how human interventions—such as vaccines—may alter virulence evolution, yet empirical support is critically lacking. We studied a protozoan parasite of monarch butterflies and found that higher levels of within-host replication resulted in both higher virulence and greater transmission, thus lending support to the idea that selection for parasite transmission can favor parasite genotypes that cause substantial harm. Parasite fitness was maximized at an intermediate level of parasite replication, beyond which the cost of increased host mortality outweighed the benefit of increased transmission. A separate experiment confirmed genetic relationships between parasite replication and virulence, and showed that parasite genotypes from two monarch populations caused different virulence. These results show that selection on parasite transmission can explain why parasites harm their hosts, and suggest that constraints imposed by host ecology can lead to population divergence in parasite virulence.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:24 AM on June 10 [22 favorites]


Also:
Most at Risk: Listeria targets older adults, pregnant women and their babies, and those with weakened immune systems. These hard-hit groups account for at least 90 percent of reported Listeria infections.
Deadly Consequences: Listeria is the third leading cause of death from food poisoning. Most people who have Listeria infections require hospital care and about 1 in 5 of them die.
Risky Foods: Listeria can hide unnoticed in food-processing equipment and contaminate food during production and processing. Outbreaks in the 1990s were primarily linked to deli meats and hot dogs. Now, Listeria outbreaks are mainly caused by soft Mexican-style cheeses like queso fresco and other cheeses that were either made from unpasteurized milk or that got contaminated during cheese-making. Some outbreaks have also been caused by foods that people may not think of as risky for Listeria, like celery, sprouts, and cantaloupe.


yes, it's nasty, if you're in one of the high risk categories.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:24 AM on June 10


Thank god they're cracking down on this and not factory pig farms.
posted by lumpenprole at 10:26 AM on June 10 [7 favorites]


Blasdelb, thank you for the awesome comment on virulence and evolution. From the regulatory side of things, here is a little more info that I was able to dig up.

If anyone can find the rest of the statement said to have been given by Monica Metz by the cheeseunderground blogspot

This news story says the statement was "made public by the American Cheese Society", but I can't find it anywhere on their web page.

The blogspot is more than fluent enough to be clearly dishonest rather than ignorant, but the FDA has been clear about removing wood from food processing areas for Ready To Eat food in a more general sense for a long time.

I can see why you are skeptical, but I don't think the author is attempting disingenuousness by head-fake. The regulation she harps on is the one that was apparently cited by Metz in her letter. You linked to draft guidelines from a few years ago that had a couple sentences about wood-use limitations. The FDA's 2013 food code is more explicit:
4-101.17 Wood, Use Limitation.
(A) Except as specified in ¶¶ (B), (C), and (D) of this section, wood and wood wicker may not be used as a FOOD-CONTACT SURFACE.

(B) Hard maple or an equivalently hard, close-grained wood may be used for:
(1) Cutting boards; cutting blocks; bakers' tables; and UTENSILS such as rolling pins, doughnut dowels, salad bowls, and chopsticks; and
(2) Wooden paddles used in confectionery operations for pressure scraping kettles when manually preparing confections at a temperature of 110ºC (230ºF) or above.
(C) Whole, uncut, raw fruits and vegetables, and nuts in the shell may be kept in the wood shipping containers in which they were received, until the fruits, vegetables, or nuts are used.

(D) If the nature of the FOOD requires removal of rinds, peels, husks, or shells before consumption, the whole, uncut, raw FOOD may be kept in:
(1) Untreated wood containers; or
(2) Treated wood containers if the containers are treated with a preservative that meets the requirements specified in 21 CFR 178.3800 Preservatives for wood.
An appendix to the 2013 code cites this paper as the basis for the wood-use limitations.

The 2013 code also provides the following additional information on the basis for and nature of wood-use limitations:
The limited acceptance of the use of wood as a food-contact surface is determined by the nature of the food and the type of wood used. Moist foods may cause the wood surface to deteriorate and the surface may become difficult to clean. In addition, wood that is treated with preservatives may result in illness due to the migration of the preservative chemicals to the food; therefore, only specific preservatives are allowed.
So I think it's is helpful to ask whether the public health risk posed by wood-board-aged cheese exceeds the risk posed by other uses that are already officially allowed.
posted by compartment at 10:35 AM on June 10 [6 favorites]


vacapinta: "Does it sound plausible that the FDA suddenly knows more than France about cheese?"
Do I think that the scientists employed by the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition's Dairy and Egg Branch know more about cheese than the abstract concept of "France"?" Why yes, yes I do.
vacapinta: "And yet European cheese makers have been getting along fine."
The paper you linked to makes an interesting case for wooden shelves, but no, Europeans have not been getting along just fine with regards to Listeria and cheese, which is apparently surprisingly difficult to track, is one of the prime suspects,
Increasing Incidence of Listeriosis in France and Other European Countries
From 1999 through 2005, the incidence of listeriosis in France declined from 4.5 to 3.5 cases/million persons. In 2006, it increased to 4.7 cases/million persons. Extensive epidemiologic investigations of clusters in France have ruled out the occurrence of large foodborne disease outbreaks. In addition, no increase has occurred in pregnancy-associated cases or among persons <6>60 years of age and appear to be most pronounced for persons >70 years of age. In 8 other European countries, the incidence of listeriosis has increased, or remained relatively high, since 2000. As in France, these increases cannot be attributed to foodborne outbreaks, and no increase has been observed in pregnancy-associated cases. European countries appear to be experiencing an increased incidence of listeriosis among persons >60 years of age. The cause of this selective increased incidence is unknown.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:40 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


If you want to talk about whether 2 cases per million persons is a significant difference, that's fine, Europe seems to have collectively said that they think the trade-off is worth it (and in a world with private automobiles, any single digits per million risk factor seems "in the noise"), but let's have the discussion including those numbers of illnesses and deaths as a part of the trade-off.

At that level of statistical significance, no trade-off is being made.
Or, if you prefer to do things by the numbers, then our course should be clear:

Ban cantaloupes
posted by vacapinta at 10:42 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


The cause of this selective increased incidence is unknown

Listeriosis incidence goes down (1999 to 2005) for unknown reasons and then goes up (2006) for unknown reasons is not a sound basis to make decisions. Was there increased use of wooden boards in 2006?
posted by vacapinta at 10:48 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


European countries appear to be experiencing an increased incidence of listeriosis among persons >60 years of age

WHICH IS THE SAME POPULATION WHO EATS CHEESE AGED ON WOOD! I solved the problem.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:50 AM on June 10


"Listeriosis incidence goes down (1999 to 2005) for unknown reasons and then goes up (2006) for unknown reasons is not a sound basis to make decisions."
It is however a pretty solid reason to refuse to keep pretending that cheese, which is associated with listeria, can't possibly be a problem worth looking into because Europeans have access to some kind of magically special heritable knowledge suffused into the corporate culture of its food industry.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:54 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


who is saying that its not worth looking in to?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:55 AM on June 10


literally no one
posted by elizardbits at 10:57 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]


"European food regulations are generally stricter, but they are sensible."
While the idea that European food regulations are always stricter has a strangely stubborn cultural cache in the States, especially in the dairy industry it is pretty dramatically the other way around. There is a reason why my colleagues who specialize in helping industrial scale yoghurt producers deal with phage infections only really find work in Europe, North American production is too clean to get infected to begin with.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:57 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


"The artisinal cheese market is truly insignificant to major food producers, you know what they would all love though?"

As artisanal cheese represents about 10 percent of the market and is rising, including artisanal cheese produced by major manufacturers, and that major manufacturers have cited artisanal cheese as one of the prime factors in the massive increase in American cheese consumption over the last decade, I'd stick to statements about bacteria instead of making broad pronouncements about things you don't seem to have researched very much at all.
posted by klangklangston at 10:58 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


It is however a pretty solid reason to refuse to keep pretending that cheese, which is associated with listeria,

But it also says "As in France, these increases cannot be attributed to foodborne outbreaks", so what are we missing?
posted by rtha at 10:58 AM on June 10


"While the idea that European food regulations are always stricter has a strangely stubborn cultural cache in the States, especially in the dairy industry it is pretty dramatically the other way around. There is a reason why my colleagues who specialize in helping industrial scale yoghurt producers deal with phage infections only really find work in Europe, North American production is too clean to get infected to begin with."

Yeah, this actually has a broader policy piece too — American industrial dairy regulations are intentionally the strictest in the world, as we're the world's largest cheese exporter (second only to the EU as a whole), and part of that is based on the idea that American cheeses are the safest.

If someone wanted to dig into actual corporate motivations, my hunch is that they'd see this as a conflict between export-oriented cheese producers and domestically-focused cheese producers, as that's where there's a direct clash of interests with regard to food safety.
posted by klangklangston at 11:01 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


"As artisanal cheese represents about 10 percent of the market and is rising, including artisanal cheese produced by major manufacturers, and that major manufacturers have cited artisanal cheese as one of the prime factors in the massive increase in American cheese consumption over the last decade, I'd stick to statements about bacteria instead of making broad pronouncements about things you don't seem to have researched very much at all."
You can invent whatever percentage you like by defining artisinal in the way most convenient to the point you're trying to make, but the wood shelf aged cheese that we're actually talking about here represents a vanishingly small portion of the domestic market.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:12 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Do I think that the scientists employed by the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition's Dairy and Egg Branch know more about cheese than the abstract concept of "France"?" Why yes, yes I do.

yes you are correct there are no scientists employed in whichever one of France's government agencies is analogous to our FDA, you alone stand between the earth's population and total listeria madness
posted by elizardbits at 11:12 AM on June 10 [16 favorites]


You can invent whatever percentage you like by defining artisinal in the way most convenient to the point you're trying to make, but the wood shelf aged cheese that we're actually talking about here represents a vanishingly small portion of the domestic market.

Then those of us who are not in a high-risk group can make our own decisions about whether or not to eat cheese aged in that way, much like we can decide to avoid factory-farmed beef and chicken and avoid farmed fish.
posted by winna at 11:14 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I live in Wisconsin. I eat blocks of cheddar at a time, straight up just cheese. I eat curds, fried or fresh. I melt the shit on all kinds of things. I love me cheese. My friend who lives in AZ but grew up here said that there is nothing that even compares down there to what we have up here. And now? YOU WANT TO TAKE IT AWAY FROM US?

Like many others have said "I'm for sensible and rational regulation to protect consumers". This is a clear case of overstepping boundaries, and frankly, if there is anyone who actually supports this sort of thing in the US, I'd be shocked. Hell, I'm sure the bureaucrats are just interpreting the law as their lawyers are forcing them to, and even the FDA "thugs" really don't agree with it.

I hate a lot of anti-regulation rhetoric that comes from the sort of weird green-liberatarian ron-paul hippies that seem to be de rigueur these days, and usually speak up against their shit when it comes to fear-mongering based nonsense.

But here? Anti-Regulation Republicans, "Freedom Loving" Libertarians, Natural Hippies, Farm-loving Democrats, Anti-Corporate Lefties... Like where on the spectrum is anyone who actually likes this?

Oh, I suppose steel and plastic manufacturers. And Kraft.

But actual non-corporate citizens should totally be up in arms and unite against this foolishness. Raw milk? I love it, I think people should be able to consume it, but I can understand why certain rules exist for that, but this... this is just a step too far and too absurd.
posted by symbioid at 11:16 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Then those of us who are not in a high-risk group can make our own decisions about whether or not to eat cheese aged in that way, much like we can decide to avoid factory-farmed beef and chicken and avoid farmed fish.
posted by winna at 11:14 AM on June 10 [+] [!]


I agree. I can't see why this isn't a labeling issue rather than a 'ban the boards' edict.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:19 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


Just label it, and let me decide for myself.

Also, GMOs are okay, but cheese isn't. Fie!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:19 AM on June 10 [6 favorites]


Then those of us who are not in a high-risk group can make our own decisions about whether or not to eat cheese aged in that way

Even adults in a high-risk group can make those decisions.
posted by jeather at 11:20 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


OK I think this is stupid, and I live in Holland now where, in addition to our own fine cheese making traditions, we have access to all the others in Europe. Cold Dead Hands indeed!

However...

When Mrs. Primate went to Paris on business pregnant with Mr. Primate the Second, she told them she was four months pregnant and couldn't have any wine. They all laughed and said one or at most two glasses would be fine. She demurred. When she reached for the cheese board, they all rose up as one and said, MRS. PRIMATE NO!

So again this is stupid, but people should be a little more aware that even in food "enlightened" Europe, people realize that eating some cheeses in some circumstances is a risk.
posted by digitalprimate at 11:23 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


"momentary entertainment for rich people" i want to thank the user who said that for illustrating so concisely the contempt that the government has for cheeselovers of a variety of socioeconomic strata...

"white voters" i came for the derision and stayed for the racism!
posted by bruce at 11:23 AM on June 10


I was reading up on Roquefort (my fave) to see if they use wooden boards. They do, but the article I was reading says the boards are salted. This would seem to make them much less likely to carry bacteria long term. Would that kind of treatment be considered in the regulations?
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 11:23 AM on June 10


yeah i figure alder smoked salmon is next (on the chopping block?)
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:26 AM on June 10


"You can invent whatever percentage you like by defining artisinal in the way most convenient to the point you're trying to make, but the wood shelf aged cheese that we're actually talking about here represents a vanishingly small portion of the domestic market."

I didn't invent any percentages — I took them from a 2013 senior project in the Cal Poly Dairy Science program, and from the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, and checked them against a couple of other sources. I commented with them above after finding them consistent.

I know that your first impulse is to be a dick when someone points out that you're making sweeping statements out of ignorance, but perhaps you'd be more persuasive if you didn't just make shit up and double down when challenged.
posted by klangklangston at 11:27 AM on June 10 [17 favorites]


Ooh are we going to talk about Greek yogurt sold in roadside mason jars again
posted by shakespeherian at 11:28 AM on June 10 [4 favorites]


Also, GMOs are okay, but cheese isn't. Fie!

Yeah it's funny how science works. I mean you get a couple hundred years of studies showing that bacteria can make you sick, while at the same time you just can't prove that messing with genes will.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:29 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


greek yogurt is pretend tim, it's all marketing
posted by elizardbits at 11:32 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]




its sort of ironic that as raw milk cheese consumption in France declines as well as the number of farmstead cheesemakers they manage to get an increase in Listeria
posted by JPD at 11:34 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Blasdelb - I'm confused about the point you are trying to make. Are you saying that "eliminating wood boards reduces the risks of listeria, so therefore this is a good rule"

Because I find it hard to argue with the idea that eliminating wood boards reduces the risk of listeria. I think the issue is that Listeria is sufficiently a small enough industry that this is simply not a risk worth trying to eliminate.

Not to mention that I've not yet seen someone trace the cause of a listeria infection to the boards.
posted by JPD at 11:37 AM on June 10


Just wait you naysayers. We will all live to 125 because of this. Wood aged cheese is the cigarettes of the 21st century.
posted by vorpal bunny at 11:41 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


winna: Then those of us who are not in a high-risk group can make our own decisions about whether or not to eat cheese aged in that way, much like we can decide to avoid factory-farmed beef and chicken and avoid farmed fish.

I really dislike this idea. Deregulating everything but letting consumers pick the 'safe' foods would pretty much throw the poor people to the dogs. Regulations are the only thing keeping the mass-produced foods safe right now (and they're pretty safe, regardless of what the whole-foods types will say) and if producers can get away with turning out unsafe products if they label it, they'll do it and label everything, like with cancer warnings in California. Then only the people who can afford the high-end stuff will be safe.

If the cheese rule is stupid, it should be overturned on a research level. That's a much better result than allowing the sale of unsafe foods.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:47 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]


I really dislike this idea. Deregulating everything but letting consumers pick the 'safe' foods would pretty much throw the poor people to the dogs.

I must have missed where I said not to regulate anything. My point was that if artisanal cheese is such a tiny piece of the market, make exceptions and label those exceptions.
posted by winna at 11:50 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


If the cheese rule is stupid, it should be overturned on a research level.

It shouldn't have been passed in the first place, given the apparent dearth of evidence that wooden boards are a source of the problem. Right here in the link Blasdelb quoted it notes that incidences of listeriosis have increased, and those increases cannot be attributed to food. So banning a long-established food practice in order to prevent something there's no evidence it causes is stupid.
posted by rtha at 11:54 AM on June 10 [4 favorites]


winna: I must have missed where I said not to regulate anything. My point was that if artisanal cheese is such a tiny piece of the market, make exceptions and label those exceptions.

Well, it's the advancement of the general concept that the consumer should be able to buy unsafe foods if they want. I don't trust that exception to stay restricted to only artisanal cheeses.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:54 AM on June 10


" really dislike this idea. Deregulating everything but letting consumers pick the 'safe' foods would pretty much throw the poor people to the dogs. Regulations are the only thing keeping the mass-produced foods safe right now (and they're pretty safe, regardless of what the whole-foods types will say) and if producers can get away with turning out unsafe products if they label it, they'll do it and label everything, like with cancer warnings in California. Then only the people who can afford the high-end stuff will be safe."

I think there's a middle ground between a label-only scheme and a ban on anything that may contain food-born illness risk.
posted by klangklangston at 11:54 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Nope, sorry, it's gonna be sterilized NutraLoaf and protein slurry for everyone from now on.
posted by elizardbits at 11:58 AM on June 10 [4 favorites]


"Well, it's the advancement of the general concept that the consumer should be able to buy unsafe foods if they want. I don't trust that exception to stay restricted to only artisanal cheeses."

Consumers can buy alcohol, which killed over 25,000 people in America in 2010 (excluding accidents and homicides).

Which does bring us back to the problem of quantifying the wood-board cheese risks — I haven't seen any research here that gives any sort of real numbers based on this "clarification," either for or against. Listeria's a serious threat in general, but the relationship between this rule and likely effects doesn't seem adequately researched.
posted by klangklangston at 12:00 PM on June 10 [8 favorites]


Also, everyone is treating this like it's going to result in the banning/eradication of all of these fancy cheeses. You know, the US is a pretty big market, and there are other ways (more controlled ways) to inoculate a cheese. Except for a small percentage of cheeses that use aromatic woods, I'm pretty sure that a lot of these manufacturers could switch to steel or plastic and make a product that was basically indistinguishable to what they use now.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:00 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


People linked upthread to arguments that cheeses not aged on wood will be different and not the same.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:03 PM on June 10


actually I think the argument from the producers is that they can't - and its the porosity of the wood that is a big part of that.

Very very few cheeses actually use aromatic woods.
posted by JPD at 12:04 PM on June 10


switching to steel or plastic would actually be cheaper in the long run
posted by JPD at 12:05 PM on June 10


MisantropicPainforest: People linked upthread to arguments that cheeses not aged on wood will be different and not the same.

Yeah, but I don't buy it. People are extremely non-objective on the subject of these expensive, high-status, historically-developed foods. It would have to be tried for some time, optimized, and there would have to be double-blind trials to determine if there was any difference. People are too biased on these issues to decide them any other way.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:07 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Is there anything we can DO about this????

well, if this were France, DC would be blockaded by barricades of dairy equipment and burning hay. on the other hand, this sort of regulation in France would be the equivalent of banning tackle football in Texas...
posted by ennui.bz at 12:09 PM on June 10 [5 favorites]


switching to a non-porous easy to disinfect shelving would be way more effective for the large scale artisanal folks like Cabot. Or the big Comte and Parm producers in 'Yurp. Sure the AOC would need to be changed - but those guys would def have the power to push that through if they thought it made sense.
posted by JPD at 12:12 PM on June 10


Look, if you put something damp on a wooden plank, and put an identical item on a steel or plastic plank, which will dry faster, and thus protect itself from microbes?
posted by No Robots at 12:15 PM on June 10


Look, if you put something damp on a wooden plank, and put an identical item on a steel or plastic plank, which will dry faster, and thus protect itself from microbes?

Surely that would potentially affect the cheesemaking process?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:17 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


one of the articles speaks to an almost respiratory process wherein the wood pulls moisture from the cheese and then returns it. i would like to see some more analysis of this. can't see it happening on plastic or metal.
posted by OHenryPacey at 12:21 PM on June 10


Look, if you put something damp on a wooden plank, and put an identical item on a steel or plastic plank, which will dry faster, and thus protect itself from microbes?

What if you change the humidity? What if you use a porous stone?

Alternately, what if you just raise the price so that people believe they are getting a better product or at least pair it with a more expensive wine?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:22 PM on June 10


No Robots: Look, if you put something damp on a wooden plank, and put an identical item on a steel or plastic plank, which will dry faster, and thus protect itself from microbes?

Well, possibly, but you can't be sure that will affect the final product. Our ability to distinguish difference isn't unlimited and the difference could be too subtle to matter. Or, hell, it could be better that way.

Also, you can't tell me that after all these years of industrial food technology development there aren't at least thirty different ways to solve this problem. I don't know the precise regulations here, but I bet you'd be ok if you used something you could autoclave, like a synthetic sponge. Maybe you could use something one-use, like a paper towel, so contamination can't remain between rounds. You could hang the cheese and increase the humidity. I'm sure there's something, people just don't want to move to it because it's not 'traditional'.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:24 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


Is it a conservative thing to see traditional foods and their preparation as somehow weird and elitist? Is it because the trendy types have bought into it? I had a very conservative boss who mocked me for liking balsamic vinegar. I told him that I was a true conservative in preferring a centuries-old vinegar to the mass-produced tasteless junk proffered up by the socialist nanny-state. He didn't have much to say after that.
posted by No Robots at 12:28 PM on June 10 [10 favorites]


So does this solve the whole EU cheese-naming dispute by just banning any cheese with a challenged name?
posted by Small Dollar at 12:29 PM on June 10


"Blasdelb - I'm confused about the point you are trying to make. Are you saying that "eliminating wood boards reduces the risks of listeria, so therefore this is a good rule""
I guess what I am trying to say is a bit more subtle. Whether either eliminating wood boards or regulating them in some specific way will meaningfully reduce the risk of listeriosis is clearly a complex and important open question, and here we are only getting the industry version of it. We hire the scientists at the FDA to begin with so that decisions about the regulation of food and drug safety can be made in the public interest by people who are paid out of the public purse and who actually know what their talking about rather than politicians, industry organizations like the one that selectively leaked only a paragraph of this 'announcement', industry spokespeople like the author of the linked blog that started all of this, or the shape of the media narrative they can create. The literature on this seems pretty embarrassingly thin and the FDA quite appropriately follows the precautionary principle, where if something has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public, in the absence of scientific consensus that it is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those wanting to do the thing. It is, appropriately, up to the cheesemakers who want to do this to prove that it is safe and, appropriately, requires a consensus of scientists at the FDA to decide that it is.

This all seems to be just the opening salvo for an extendedly pitched battle through the courts to begin when the FDA starts eventually enforcing this expectation itself, now that it will no longer rely on the states to do it, if indeed it has all been represented accurately to us to begin with. Once the FDA actually makes its case for eliminating wooden shelf inoculation in this way, if they ever do, we can then evaluate it.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:30 PM on June 10 [8 favorites]


Here I sit, after a wonderful (takeaway) dish of boullettes with ratatouille and fresh mozzarella. Euro Fusion. On the other hand, I cannot buy GMO products, the paperwork is too much for my local providers.

I've been reading the various theories here, and would like to point out that a new US-EU trade-agreement is on the books. And just as Euro lobbyists are having a big time pointing out how disastrously disgusting and inhuman big-scale American food producers are, American food lobbyists are pointing at the slack European attitude when it comes to bacteria (yeah, yeah, I know, but the broader public doesn't. Basically, it's their best argument).

For Big Food, the problem isn't small American producers, but huge European producers, and if a thousand small American businesses fall in that fight, they couldn't care less.

If the big European food companies were allowed to compete in the US at market prices, it would be a huge blow to the big US providers. Euro companies are used to delivering high quality (similar to artisanal products in the US) at low prices. They are tripping to expand their market. Even those companies which didn't work with raw milk and wood earlier are working to expand their product lines. This is a threat to the American dairy industry, because they haven't to the same extent being working on product development.

For a while, forget about Parmesan and Camembert, and just think about butter. What if French butter and butter products became as accessible all over the US as Kraft's products? Or think about free-range poultry - a product from France which is definitely challenging the poultry market here where I live.

Obviously, I think this is a good thing. Affordable quality is what I want. But I can't imagine the industry which has earned billions by providing cheap junk is as happy.

BTW, using wood is not about aromatic properties but about bacterial management. We need bacteria for taste, but we need the right bacteria. Wood has excellent anti-bacterial properties, unlike plastic or steel, and as I understand it, wine- and cheese makers have learnt to use this to their advantage. Personally, I use both types of boards, but I preferred wood when I didn't have a dishwasher. Back then, I cooked professionally, so it was no small deal. Never had a sick guest.
posted by mumimor at 12:30 PM on June 10 [14 favorites]


Aaand here, ladies and germs, is the legacy of regulatory capture by Big Dairy: You can order factory farmed ham and shitty orange slurry we call American cheese, with mayo on white bread, and you can like it, or you can be hungry.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 12:31 PM on June 10


An orange, cheese-flavored eraser.
posted by Pudhoho at 12:35 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Is it a conservative thing to see traditional foods and their preparation as somehow weird and elitist? Is it because the trendy types have bought into it? I had a very conservative boss who mocked me for liking balsamic vinegar. I told him that I was a true conservative in preferring a centuries-old vinegar to the mass-produced tasteless junk proffered up by the socialist nanny-state. He didn't have much to say after that.

Go to any rural farmers market and you can find equal parts hippies, urban hipsters looking for artisinal products, hucksters selling woo like ear candles and crystals, and tea party survivalists.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:35 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


shitty orange slurry we call American cheese

Before we go any further, I'd just like to clarify the distinction between individually plastic wrapped, flat, square cheese-flavored food products and "American Cheese" that is a type of cheese made in America since the 1700's and is somewhere on the spectrum between a colby and cheddar and imitated by said above cheese-flavored food product manufacturers.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:39 PM on June 10 [8 favorites]


Go to any rural farmers market and you can find equal parts hippies, urban hipsters looking for artisinal products, hucksters selling woo like ear candles and crystals, and tea party survivalists.

You'll also find a lot of just plain folks. Americans are rebelling against the bland leading the bland. Look at the growth in the craft beer movement. Indeed, in some respects, Americans are leading the movement toward a healthy diet.
posted by No Robots at 12:39 PM on June 10


Also, you can't tell me that after all these years of industrial food technology development there aren't at least thirty different ways to solve this problem.

Solve what problem? We can't seem to establish that they cause one.
posted by rtha at 12:39 PM on June 10 [5 favorites]


in blasdelb's world, there is no regulatory capture, the FDA is as pure and public-spirited as lady justice, "industry" is the artisanal producers who challenge corporate food, and the burden of proof is on the artisans to prove that their centuries-old technques are safe.
posted by bruce at 12:40 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


yeah...liberals are gonna be 'you can't do this because science' and libertarians and gonna be 'you can't do this because big government'
posted by OHenryPacey at 12:41 PM on June 10


Americans are leading the movement toward a healthy diet.

Yes, very slowly on the rascal scooters we drive because we've grown too obese to carry our own carcass by our own power.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:42 PM on June 10 [4 favorites]


French butter is pretty easy to find in the US already.
posted by JPD at 12:42 PM on June 10


French butter is pretty easy to find in the US already.
As easy as a box of mac and cheese? Because that is where the French manufacturers are looking.
posted by mumimor at 12:47 PM on June 10


Follow the money. I'm betting that this legislation has the handiwork of lobbyists from Kraft, etc. all over it.
posted by Vibrissae at 12:49 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


In NYC? Yeah pretty much. President - of course I think that's Lactalis.
posted by JPD at 12:56 PM on June 10


This is a critical factor. Plastic preparation surfaces can be machine washed. Wood can't.

If machine washability becomes an important part of making such decisions, isn't that more or less saying we regulate for industrialized production and against artisinal/cottage-scale/unindustrialized production?
posted by weston at 12:56 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


The Canadian government already signed a free trade agreement with the EU. Which means more European cheeses here but also means less opportunities for Quebec cheesemakers to sell their own cheeses.

So yeah, we've already got that deal with the devil going for us.
posted by Kitteh at 12:57 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


i really feel like my conservative mother is really getting upset about the wrong things when she talks about government intrusion into our lives.
posted by sio42 at 1:06 PM on June 10


Kitteh, this is exactly what I am talking about. The first to go are the local cheese makers, because the big French and Italian companies can easily out-price them and for the average consumer also match the quality.
However the threat is as real for the big companies, because the really big European dairy industries can deliver a fairly high quality for very low prices. And they are beyond cynical. They'd buy out your local dairy the day they could.
Again - I'm not 100% opposed to this. They deliver, and that means I get good dairy products at low prices. For the US, where big industry dominates, it would mean a huge rise in quality for many middle-class consumers.
posted by mumimor at 1:12 PM on June 10


> in blasdelb's world, there is no regulatory capture, the FDA is as pure and public-spirited as lady justice, "industry" is the artisanal producers who challenge corporate food, and the burden of proof is on the artisans to prove that their centuries-old technques are safe.

"Naive" is not a word I would use to describe blasdelb.

The science exists, we have the publications. The regulations already existed, we have the official record. There are no new laws being enacted by fiat.

There is plenty of circumstantial evidence that this clampdown would have happened anyway as part of the fallout of a food contamination scare. The current uproar is over the FDA's announcement that those existing regulations had not been enforced properly and will be henceforth.

What we have the least evidence about is that the regulators are on the take. I'm not particularly convinced there isn't something janky going on, but I'm also aware that my biases are due to not wanting my options for good cheese in this country severely rationed. If this had pertained to regulations that affect things I don't give a damn about, I would probably be making different assumptions.
posted by at by at 1:21 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


Who's creaming off EU subsidies?: Exports of cheap European dairy products are crushing the livelihoods of developing world farmers.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:24 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


i wouldn't describe blasdelb as naive either. as far as regulators not being on the take, i guess you've never heard of the "revolving door".
posted by bruce at 1:29 PM on June 10


Now I've gone down the rabbit hole of researching home cheese making THANKS FDA
posted by miyabo at 1:30 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


> i wouldn't describe blasdelb as naive either. as far as regulators not being on the take, i guess you've never heard of the "revolving door".

You had. And you apparently hadn't read my other comments in this thread. But thanks for participating anyway.
posted by at by at 1:57 PM on June 10


Wait, this all stems from one artisinal cheese maker? From one actual, literal board? If this issue doesn't exist in Europe, where they know a thing or two about cheese, then the FDA should be looking there for guidance.

It's a sad situation when the Libertarians are right.
posted by zardoz at 2:00 PM on June 10


A couple of modest proposals:

1. States pass those great non-disparagement laws, and then arrest the FDA for badmouthing their cheeses.

2. Give the USDA exclusive cheese jurisdiction, cutting the FDA out entirely. Because all evidence indicates that the USDA is positively in favor of human pathogens in the food it inspects, even to the point of encouraging such pathogens to be mechanically pounded into it where hopefully they will not be reached by cooking.

I'm just here to help, okay?
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:01 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


"I'd just like to clarify the distinction between individually plastic wrapped, flat, square cheese-flavored food products and "American Cheese" that is a type of cheese made in America since the 1700's and is somewhere on the spectrum between a colby and cheddar and imitated by said above cheese-flavored food product manufacturers."

From getting too far into Wisconsin cheese info for a previous joke on Facebook for work, in Wisconsin that's apparently called "brick" cheese, and is listed as one of the two cheeses invented in Wisconsin (colby is the other).
posted by klangklangston at 2:04 PM on June 10


"You'll also find a lot of just plain folks."

You mean normcores?
posted by klangklangston at 2:08 PM on June 10 [4 favorites]


So yeah, we've already got that deal with the devil going for us.

Considering what dairy products cost these days, I'd say consumers have been dealing with Old Scratch for some time. That sector of the economy is effectively a cartel, with complex regulations pushing up the price of things like cheese and keeping new producers from entering the market.

I'd like to think that some competition from abroad would force the system to become more efficient and maybe lower prices, but since this is the Harper government we're talking about, they'll probably figure out a way to keep the dairy cows (and the rural votes behind them) sacred.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:13 PM on June 10


This issue does exist in Europe. Higher up in the thread there are examples of listeria infection rates from dairy in the US and France. France's is higher. Its still very very low. The argument is really mostly about acceptable risk. The FDA views no risk as acceptable, the French analog views a minimal risk as being acceptable.
posted by JPD at 2:16 PM on June 10


The takeaway from this thread: I now know what it takes to turn a web forum typically over-represented by progressives into an angry, anti-FDA libertarian mob ... cheese.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:25 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


JPD: "The argument is really mostly about acceptable risk. The FDA views no risk as acceptable, the French analog views a minimal risk as being acceptable."

That statement doesn't hold up when looking at the linked information. For example one of the links you refer to also states this (emphasis mine):
As in France, these increases cannot be attributed to foodborne outbreaks, and no increase has been observed in pregnancy-associated cases. European countries appear to be experiencing an increased incidence of listeriosis among persons >60 years of age. The cause of this selective increased incidence is unknown.

So while listeria rates in France are higher there is apparently no evidence at all linking this to cheese aging boards or anything else food related.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:26 PM on June 10 [7 favorites]


It's not so much who cut the cheese as where.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:27 PM on June 10


You mean normcores?

I mean people without any definite ideology. Again, think craft beer. Not everyone drinking craft beer is on a crusade. Some just like the taste.
posted by No Robots at 2:37 PM on June 10


Time to re-reade some Jasper Fforde and wince at the Cheese Enforcement Agency jokes. (Yes, I know it's not about the US, but honestly -- despite how silly these books are, I learned a lot about how strong English DNA is in American politics and attitudes. :| )

Also, the FDA has repeatedly proven that they're not that interested in what happens in Europe. Or, you know ... human bodies.
posted by wintersweet at 3:43 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


the listeria rate before the recent increase was higher. I think this is a dumb rule, but there is a link between raw dairy and listeria. That wasn't just like made up.
posted by JPD at 3:47 PM on June 10


The cause of this selective increased incidence is unknown.
posted by rtha at 4:00 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


They'd buy out your local dairy the day they could.

Those of us lucky enough to live in Canadia don't even have to wait for the Europeans! I'm looking at you Mr. Saputo*.

*Net worth $3.4 Billion
posted by sneebler at 4:09 PM on June 10


What? No more Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Cabot Clothbound or Marieke Feonegreek?

There goes the hot fromage à trois I was planning for the weekend.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:16 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]



Well maybe this will be the start of a new under the table business opportunity for me.

I live in Canada.

I work in a small cheese factory that's been around for 130 years. I even specially packed a bunch of fresh cheese curd for someone that was smuggling it to Britain for friends so I've got some skills.
posted by Jalliah at 4:27 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


Ruthless Bunny: "Also, GMOs are okay, but cheese isn't. Fie!"

There are approximately infinitely more cases of harm to consumers from listeria than there are from GMOs, since GMOs are safe. I don't agree with this regulation of cheese production, and I think that in this case, labeling and leaving it up to the consumer could be a good solution, but please stop your unscientific scaremongering.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:30 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: approximately infinitely more
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:42 PM on June 10


Joakim Ziegler: "GMOs are safe. [...] please stop your unscientific scaremongering."

[derail]
Please stop assuming that everybody here who is critical of GMOs is critical of GMOs because they think they're somehow unsafe to consume. There is a whole laundry list of other reasons why people like me have problems with GMOs. You do this every. single. time. the word GMO pops up anywhere on the Blue. It's tiresome and condescending.
[/derail]
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:57 PM on June 10 [6 favorites]


BTW - I've seen one of the food reporters from the NY times tweeting that the FDA is walking this back for now at least.
posted by JPD at 4:59 PM on June 10


Hairy Lobster: "Please stop assuming that everybody here who is critical of GMOs is critical of GMOs because they think they're somehow unsafe to consume. There is a whole laundry list of other reasons why people like me have problems with GMOs. You do this every. single. time. the word GMO pops up anywhere on the Blue. It's tiresome and condescending."

I've not done this "every. single. time.", this is literally the second time I do it in Metafilter history.

The comment asked for labeling and inherently compared cheese aged on wood with GMOs, when we're discussing the safety of cheese aged on wood, saying "GMOs are ok, but cheese isn't. Fie!" I'm hard pressed to see that as implying anything other than that GMOs are unsafe to consume.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:07 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


"I mean people without any definite ideology. Again, think craft beer. Not everyone drinking craft beer is on a crusade. Some just like the taste."

Oh yeah, normcores. Not having a definite ideology or crusade is in right now.
posted by klangklangston at 5:27 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Since the FDA is a federal regulatory body, and these methods of cheese production remain unregulated in most states, we should still be able to buy artisanal cheese from producers local to us, right?

You are asking for States Rights - and that doesn't play well on The Blue.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:22 PM on June 10




it's actually pretty reasonable.
posted by OHenryPacey at 8:01 PM on June 10


You are asking for States Rights - and that doesn't play well on The Blue.

Well… except when it does. The upside of States Rights is (recently) marijuana decriminalization and gay marriage, for example.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:15 PM on June 10


You mean when federal judges overturn state bans on same-sex marriage, as happened in Oregon, Idaho, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania in the past month?
posted by mbrubeck at 9:02 PM on June 10


Not everyone drinking craft beer is on a crusade. Some just like the taste.

Or not even that. I drink small- and micro-brew beers for the same reason I don't read the same book over and over again, or watch the same movie. There's a lot of beer out there, and it's changing all the time. I'd rather experience a big swathe of them than drink the same beer over and over again.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:13 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]



bruce: "no, my favorite orange. the federal government regulates "interstate commerce", and there's a bad line of supreme court decisions (starting with wickard v. filburn) which holds that purely in-state commerce can be regulated because it impacts interstate commerce."

Isn't it also the basis for enforcement of the Civil Rights Act?

klangklangston: "Consumers can buy alcohol, which killed over 25,000 people in America in 2010 (excluding accidents and homicides)."

When organized crime gets a measurable percentage of their income from cheese smuggling or people start dieing from bathroom limburger would be a good time to start talking about harm reduction via legalization. IE: More people are harmed when alcohol is illegal than when it is regulated and legal.
posted by Mitheral at 9:59 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Ban cantaloupes

That reminds me.... My Mimolette Ban FPP, previously
posted by Room 641-A at 10:36 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


The FDA issued a statement that Vox added to the end of their post on this, for what it's worth.

The Vox article is well worth reading. It quotes a food scientist who believes that the jury is still out on this one:
"I don't think we should just say 'Don't produce cheeses on wooden boards.' It's more complicated than that," says Arthur Hill, a food scientist who studies cheese at the University of Guelph in Canada. "The literature on this is not conclusive, and I'm not sure that the risk analysis justifies the FDA's ruling." ...

"There's occasional evidence of toxigenic bacteria, but there's also evidence of other bacteria that produce antimicrobials that limit the growth of toxigenic ones," Hill says. " So if you arbitrarily say, 'you can still do the washed rind, but you can't do it on wood,' you may actually create conditions in which Listeria can grow more effectively."

Moreover, the numbers of Listeria detected in these tests aren't particularly high — probably not enough to actually cause an outbreak. The truth is that the age-old tradition of washed rind aging produces a complex mix of bacteria strains that we still don't fully understand — and the answer isn't banning wood, but conducting more research.
It also links to the research-citing, scientific-basis-for-no-wood-aging letter the FDA sent out. This is the primary source that we couldn't find earlier in the day. In the letter, Metz cites the pro-wood-aged paper and explains why she thinks its pro-wood-aged conclusions are incorrect.

The letter is hosted by Constant Contact, and the American Cheese Society tweeted today that members should check their inbox for a "member alert". It would be interesting to see the actual alert that was emailed, as it probably influenced the initial tenor of conversation about this issue.

One of the companies that received a no-wood-board, clean-up-your-act letter also wrote a Facebook post that presented a simplified version of what was going on. They said that the FDA "has a concern" about their use of wood boards, and had demanded that they cease sales immediately. Important details are omitted.

Upthread, Blasdelb linked to a publicly available letter from 2012 the FDA sent to that company. If you've made it this far into the Great MetaFilter Cheese Thread of 2014, you owe it to yourself to read the actual FDA letter. The FDA reports that listeria was found in five locations throughout the facility, recalls that listeria-tainted cheese was discovered (and destroyed), and describes E. coli contamination. Specifically, this is what the FDA said about listeria:
Five environmental swabs collected on June 5, 2012 from your facility tested positive for L. monocytogenes. These swabs were collected from: inside of a brine tank (right side); cheese rack in the aging cooler; cheese board in the aging cooler; outside of a brine tank (left side); and a processing room floor drain ... [Testing] results suggest that L. monocytogenes may have been transported throughout your facility and established niche areas.
It looks like the FDA had legitimate concerns about the facility, but for whatever reason they chose to harp on the wooden boards — I guess maybe because they are the last food-contact surface the cheese touches before being packaged for distribution/sale? Or maybe they believe the wood got a thorough dousing from listeria-contaminated brine? I don't know.

The argument-starting cheese blog referred to a letter from the FDA. That letter — the PDF file apparently sent out in the Cheese Society email — was in reply to a state agency in New York that had requested clarification. The cheese blog made the nature of that letter clear, but I think the specifics were lost in the noise.

Anyway, here is what the FDA told the media today. This is the statement appended as an update to the Vox article.
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 bottom line is this: Reality is complicated, and it may well be that there are some circumstances in which it is safe to use wood boards, and other circumstances in which it is unsafe. In the case of the aforementioned New York producer, the FDA may have felt that it was unsafe to produce cheese on those specific wooden boards. If a porous wooden board is soaked in listeria-contaminated brine, then perhaps it ought not be used.

The FDA does not currently have a "wood-boards-here-but-not-there-for-cheese" policy. Therefore, if they were ever to find a totally listeria-soaked aging rack, they couldn't cite that nonexistent rule when demanding the producer chuck it in the trash. If they wanted to mandate a reasonable course of action, they would have to logically shoehorn it into some existing regulation, as was apparently done in New York.

I feel a little bit played by the information that was initially presented. Yes, I would be disappointed if the FDA regulated away artisanal cheese. And no, the existing rules do not adequately deal with subtle nuances like wooden boards in general versus germ-brine death boards. The best solution is not to do away with food regulations; it is to refine those regulations on the basis of scientific evidence.

In the meantime, there might be situations in which the FDA believes that they have discovered an obviously dangerous situation that is not covered by existing rules. Should the FDA attempt to enforce corrective action through novel (and inconsistently applied) interpretations of existing rules? Or is it better to apply the rules consistently to everyone, letting dangerous conditions persist? I think that's more a philosophical question than a scientific one.

One last addendum to a comment that's already too long: It's kinda funny that the American Cheese Society — an organization whose name brings to mind processed single squares of Kraft American Cheese — is so vocally in favor of non-processed artisan cheeses.
posted by compartment at 10:52 PM on June 10 [20 favorites]


Is artisanal cheese purely the domain of the privileged? Are there marginalized low-income cheesemakers that would be majorly screwed if a ban on wood boards took place?
posted by divabat at 11:11 PM on June 10


"When organized crime gets a measurable percentage of their income from cheese smuggling or people start dieing from bathroom limburger would be a good time to start talking about harm reduction via legalization. IE: More people are harmed when alcohol is illegal than when it is regulated and legal."

Hold on, let's not move the goalposts. You said that the idea that American consumers can decide for themselves whether or not to buy unsafe food was flawed, so I pointed out one example of unsafe food we can (and do) buy on the regular, despite it killing far more people per year. It's also legal to buy fugu in some states, and legal to buy raw meat in all of them. While it's worth being concerned about regulatory weakness under the rubric of individualism, it's also worth pointing out that people should generally be allowed to buy booze even without the specter of Chicago gangsters in pinstripes.
posted by klangklangston at 2:01 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]


I hope anyone in this thread who sent an angry email to Dr. Metz sends a second one apologizing for having been so badly suckered. I'm sure her poor inbox could use a bit of sunshine right about now.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:39 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]


"It also links to the research-citing, scientific-basis-for-no-wood-aging letter the FDA sent out. This is the primary source that we couldn't find earlier in the day. In the letter, Metz cites the pro-wood-aged paper and explains why she thinks its pro-wood-aged conclusions are incorrect."
This is only getting more deeply, and suspiciously, weird. That PDF is not what FDA warning letters look like, it is not what FDA position statements look like, it has no signature or letterhead, and looks like it was just typed up in word, which is not what official anything from the FDA looks like. Whatever is going on here, an awful lot of journalists are going to come out looking awful stupid for having taken that transparently sketchily sourced blogspot at face value.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:05 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


Dear Americans, can I just recommend you make sure to try some Beaufort d'ete before it gets banned? Because my god. Seriously. Trust me on this.
posted by Pre-Taped Call In Show at 3:29 AM on June 11


compartment: The bottom line is this: Reality is complicated, and it may well be that there are some circumstances in which it is safe to use wood boards, and other circumstances in which it is unsafe.

I don't think we disagree, compartment, but let me say it anyway: If the facility is not safe for food production, it is not safe for food production - wooden boards or not. Fix the unsafe facility. Wooden boards are perfectly safe in clean facilities. It's as simple as that.

"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."

This is something the FDA wants to use its resources on, really? Are thousands of years of experience across different human cultures not enough?

Listeria, Salmonella & Co are not specific to cheese, and can live in eggs, meat, desserts, salads and all kinds of other stuff. We all want hygienic, safe and delicious food - you don't need to reinvent the wheel though.
posted by travelwithcats at 3:48 AM on June 11


"The person that this is coming from at the FDA is Monica Metz, head of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition's Dairy and Egg Branch. Prior to working for the FDA Metz worked for the world's largest industrial producer of mozzarella. Yes, there really is a Big Cheese and it really is involved here."
At 71 favorites now, I also just wanted to address this depressingly common bit of idiotically libelous bullshit. It seems whenever Federal regulatory agencies do anything to offend liberal themed failures to understand scientific concepts or process, someone thinks to look up whether the employees involved have ever once in their careers had an industry job, did research on an industry grant, or ended up with so much as a pen such that we can all fit it into our neatly simple theories for why Federal scientists don't act like they got their educations from Google.

The FDA has valid and pressing interest in regularly poaching researchers and engineers from companies like Leprino Foods to keep its institutional knowledge of corporate culture and corporate practices relevant. Having former industry employees and people who have done research relevant enough to industry to be worth them paying for it on our payroll is a good thing. While there is a problem in the congress, and particularly the defense sector, where clearly people shamelessly leave their congressional seats and Pentagon jobs to cushy 'consultant positions' on handshakes, the dynamics that create that bullshit aren't really a thing at the academic and regulatory agencies in anywhere near the same way. A job at the FDA is something one almost always advances through and then retires in, while business doesn't get done with handshakes and briefcases full of cash at cheese companies.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:55 AM on June 11 [7 favorites]


"This is something the FDA wants to use its resources on, really? Are thousands of years of experience across different human cultures not enough?"
No, no that is not enough when there is good reason to think that processing steps influence Listeria contamination of cheese and an open question of whether current standards for the use of wooden boards are sufficient. We also have thousands of years of experience across different human cultures sweetening things with lead acetate, using various kinds of human remains in foods, consuming mercury to 'cure' all sorts of things, and dying of Listeriosis but its a good thing someone looked into that shit.
"Wooden boards are perfectly safe in clean facilities. It's as simple as that."
Industrial food safety is many things but it is rarely simple or intuitive. It looks like there should be a set of standards that will allow the use of wooden boards to be both safe and useful for storing effective cultures, and that the FDA is open to investigating what exactly they should be, but which of the standards the various states have come up with should the FDA impose? How often should the boards be cleaned? How and with what chemicals? How often should they be tested? With which tests? What exactly should happen with a positive result?

This has all been figured out with steel and plastic surfaces, but wood presents additional challenges worth respecting and looking into.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:20 AM on June 11 [6 favorites]


"One of the companies that received a no-wood-board, clean-up-your-act letter also wrote a Facebook post that presented a simplified version of what was going on. They said that the FDA "has a concern" about their use of wood boards, and had demanded that they cease sales immediately. Important details are omitted."
Yeah, that facebook post is ridiculous,
Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese: "The FDA has a concern about our use of wooden shelves to age the Goudas and consequently has demanded that we cease sales immediately. If you have any questions, please contact me, nancy@fingerlakes-cheese.com or call 607 387 3108."
This is only a very small part of the FDA's concerns with Finger Lake's cheese, and their dishonesty in failing to mention the presence of fecal bacteria in product sample 758101 of their Schuyler Gouda Cheese, their repeated failure to adequately clean surfaces, and the endemic contamination of both food contact surfaces and cheese with Listeria monocytogenes is almost more concerning than the poop in their cheese; ...almost.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:19 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


We also have thousands of years of experience across different human cultures sweetening things with lead acetate, using various kinds of human remains in foods, consuming mercury to 'cure' all sorts of things, and dying of Listeriosis but its a good thing someone looked into that shit.

It has been looked into. Its just that other modern countries have done so. This isn't just about blindly following a thousand years of peasant traditions. As I linked to earlier, the conclusions are that wooden boards are safe as long as they are heavily regulated.

Anyways, this will probably end up like egg-washing where we remove something naturally protective, have to be even more careful and in the end create more vectors for disease. The EU outlaws egg-washing for this very reason and instead vaccinates hens.

It doesn't matter whether you agree with the US or the EU, it is impossible to maintain that food regulations are put in place by disinterested scientists.
posted by vacapinta at 5:23 AM on June 11 [6 favorites]


Well, when I first saw this thread my very first thought was: There is no way the FDA is straight-up banning this entire category of popular cheeses. This must be an overblown reaction.

I read the thread, expecting the comments here to quickly get to the bottom of the media bullshit, per usual. To my dismay, there appeared to be no other side to the story in evidence here. Yet, the FDA just axing parm was still such a wild thought, I decided to wait a few days for the story to develop.

And here we are. I'm honestly disappointed in the uncharacteristically credulous response this thread had to what amounted to bog-standard poor journalism. Maybe it will help our empathy toward gun nuts if we imagine it as their version of cheese: the reactions to a baseless threat of taking them away seems very similar.

Thanks especially to Blasdelb and compartment for cutting through the noise and staying patient.
posted by gilrain at 5:25 AM on June 11 [5 favorites]


"The cause of this selective increased incidence is unknown."
More than just the abstract for that paper is publicly available for you to read. However, if anyone would like access to any of the paywalled peer reviewed literature on this subject, for the purpose of this academic conversation that we are currently having, please feel free to memail me with an email I can send a PDF to, a link to the abstract(s), and a promise not to electronically distribute that PDF further.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:42 AM on June 11


Gilrain, I actually thought the same thing, but had difficulty finding anything to the contrary and defense of the FDA anywhere on the web, and as the thread progressed, it seemed more and more likely that either there wasn't another side or time would be needed to see any other side. This was just unusual for the Blue. I'm grateful we have some counterpoints, although I'm not sure it is a full rebuttal of the cheesemakers' complaints.

While I have a day job and can't read everything posted in the nearly 300 comments, it seems to me that we've come down to understanding, as was mentioned in the original articles, that there is a bacterial danger and a given producer was correctly cited for unclean conditions. I'm critical of journalists, but I'm not sure that this is a case of poor journalism here given that was mentioned in the first articles.

What I'm not sure is clear is whether the reaction of the FDA is warranted, a good idea, or even justified in terms of health consequences in the US, but I'm hopeful they aren't closing the books on this with a simple ban instead of a more nuanced and thoughtful approach. Certainly an EU comparison helps shed light on the matter and illness rates elsewhere are a prime incentive for the FDA to act to prevent illness in the US. It seems to me that more inspections and greater citations of poor conditions would be a better recourse than an outright ban, but the FDA is underfunded. I also think there is something to be said of priorities, with the FDA having much bigger fish to fry and industries to focus upon for real health improvement. More discrete sanitation requirements couple with inspections is probably the better answer than the current status or the ban.

If I'm missing a high level summary point, someone should make it as this thread likely starts to close out.
posted by Muddler at 5:45 AM on June 11


I imagine you saw it, but a bit upthread compartment posted a pretty good summary of what is actually known.
posted by gilrain at 5:48 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


More than just the abstract for that paper is publicly available for you to read.

Thanks, yes, I read it, and reading it in its entirety didn't make me think they had been incorrect in the abstract writeup.

To be clear: I am not disputing that listeriosis can be and is caused by contaminated foods. I am disputing the implication that *this* paper offers evidence for why wooden boards in cheese aging should be banned because that will cause the incidence of listeriosis to decrease. If there is such evidence, I would like to read it.
posted by rtha at 6:31 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


That PDF is not what FDA warning letters look like, it is not what FDA position statements look like, it has no signature or letterhead, and looks like it was just typed up in word, which is not what official anything from the FDA looks like.

The cheese blog says that the FDA sent this to a New York state agency that had requested clarification on the issue of wood boards, but people seem to be suffering from the misunderstanding that the content of that letter was actually sent to cheese producers. The formatting looks weird, but I believe the PDF is authentic.

I checked the PDF metadata and the author is indeed a person who works for the FDA. However, it is not Metz. A cursory Google search reveals that the PDF author is a person who seems to have presented a talk at a conference about listeria control in cheese. I doubt Metz is happy with the state of her inbox right now, and I am reluctant to add more names to this thread. At any rate, the idea that it is Metz, specifically, single-handedly regulating on behalf of "big cheese" is just not credible to me.

The fact that we do not (for now) have a record of correspondence between the FDA and NY state governments means that we are lacking important context. I am guessing that the plain-Microsoft-Word-PDF statement was provided to Metz by someone with relevant knowledge, and then passed on to New York officials.
posted by compartment at 7:04 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]


One more thing to add. The FDA is currently investigating listeria-related risks associated with raw-milk cheese. The draft summary of their findings and the draft technical report are both available online.

The FDA reports say nothing about wooden boards. After publication of the draft summary, 33 public comments were submitted to the FDA. Neither the American Cheese Society nor French public health authorities mention wooden boards. (For the sake of comparison, there were about 4,000 public comments on the draft version of the most recent National Climate Assessment.)

The FDA cited unclean wooden boards in their October 2012 letter to the New York producer that destroyed a batch of listeria-contaminated cheese. The American Cheese Society submitted their remarks during a public comment period that closed April 29, 2013.

A quick review of the draft summary makes it appear that the FDA's primary concern is that product may be contaminated by listeria originating from raw milk used to produce a specific batch of cheese — not from listeria lingering in aging racks. Based on the 2012 test results from the above-mentioned producer's facility, it is conceivable that a listeria population first gained a foothold in the brine tank and then spread elsewhere, including to the aging racks. The draft summary predicts the impact of various risk mitigation strategies, such as testing bulk milk and testing all lots of produced cheese.
posted by compartment at 7:33 AM on June 11 [4 favorites]


Well, it's the advancement of the general concept that the consumer should be able to buy unsafe foods if they want. I don't trust that exception to stay restricted to only artisanal cheeses.

I certainly hope it doesn't, as I always order my eggs sunny-side up or over-easy when I'm in a diner and never order steak cooked anywhere beyond medium-rare.
posted by phearlez at 7:49 AM on June 11


Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vermont) plans on introducing an amendment to the Agricultural Appropriations Bill that would effectively prevent the FDA from enforcing its interpretation of the law.

"[T]his is the mother of all dumb ideas, and we've gotta stop it."

tl;dr: Dairy states got each others backs.
posted by vortex genie 2 at 8:02 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]




"A job at the FDA is something one almost always advances through and then retires in, while business doesn't get done with handshakes and briefcases full of cash at cheese companies."

Michael R. Taylor is one example of an industry professional who has repeatedly worked for the FDA and has worked for Monsanto as, essentially, a lobbyist (public policy position). I realize that sometimes the conspiracy theorists are yelping at fantods, but you seem entirely too sanguine about the incorruptibility of the FDA. The other side of "keep[ing] its institutional knowledge of corporate culture and corporate practices relevant" is employees that adopt the default framing of their previous corporate positions, which may not be in the public interest. After all, these are the same excuses we hear for why Tom Wheeler's industry experience doesn't prejudice him.
posted by klangklangston at 8:41 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]


"[T]his is the mother of all dumb ideas, and we've gotta stop it."
That motherfucker, there are reasons we need to expect politicians stay out of shit they don't understand and leave science to scientists. That Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vermont) conspicuously hasn't even consulted with the FDA before writing this amendment only makes it worse,
"SEC. ll. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to establish, implement, or enforce any prohibition against aging or ripening cheese on wood under section 110.40 of title 21, Code of Federal Regulations."
The last thing we need is the FDA prevented from actively regulating the unambiguously unsanitary practices that started all of this or prevented from prohibiting this method if more data show it to be harmful after all.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:47 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


While Welch is clearly overstepping his knowledge here, if we "leave science to scientists," there'd be far fewer laws that actually do protect the public. And scientists aren't always the best judges of public policy — see Robert Kehoe.
posted by klangklangston at 8:55 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


The last thing we need is the FDA prevented from actively regulating the unambiguously unsanitary practices that started all of this or prevented from prohibiting this method if more data show it to be harmful after all.

Huh? We might want exactly that. It is not overstepping the role of the legislature to put the brakes on regulation when there the regulators are exceeding the public's desire for said regulation.

In other words, there is always a tradeoff between safety and risk. The FDA, for a variety of (mostly good) reasons, tends to always come down on the side of safety. Left to their own devices, I suspect they'd have us eating nothing but individually-wrapped, thoroughly irradiated, serially numbered tetra-paks of Soylent. That would be the least risky option.

It is up to voters, via their elected representatives, to say "no, thanks, actually we're cool with running the risk of [listeria|e. coli|mercury poisoning|cancer|whatever] in our [cheese|chicken|sushi|cigarettes|etc.], please kindly back the fuck off".

That "nope we're cool with the risk" decision isn't one where there's a quantitative 'right answer' that you can come up with; it's a sort of values-based decision that the people being protected have to make themselves. The FDA's role in that decision should be an advisory one, presenting the information, with the decision ultimately rendered by voters. Obviously, there are problems when the democratic process is so thoroughly corrupted that it's more "lobbyists" than "voters", but the solution to that isn't just to hand everything over to a bunch of boffins in a lab and tell them to please tell us what to eat.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:11 AM on June 11


I drink small- and micro-brew beers for the same reason I don't read the same book over and over again, or watch the same movie. There's a lot of beer out there, and it's changing all the time. I'd rather experience a big swathe of them than drink the same beer over and over again.

I think klangklangston just called you a normcore.
posted by No Robots at 9:16 AM on June 11


It's fun, thinking things, isn't it? I did it once, got a bit vertiginous and quickly turned on the TV to put a stop to it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:38 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]


"Michael R. Taylor is one example of an industry professional who has repeatedly worked for the FDA and has worked for Monsanto as, essentially, a lobbyist (public policy position). I realize that sometimes the conspiracy theorists are yelping at fantods, but you seem entirely too sanguine about the incorruptibility of the FDA."
When this became a political football back in the mid 90s, the grownups at the GAO looked into the various allegations and published a comprehensive 30 page report establishing both the lack of impropriety and appearance of impropriety, to be ignored in Google searches ever since.

The potential for conflicts of interest is obviously a serious and unending concern, but as a just so explanation, like I quoted upthread, for the decisions we don't understand it wears very thin very fast. However, if indeed there is a problem here with employees that adopt the default framing of their previous corporate positions, it is only one of lacking sufficient employees from the right companies, the few that use wooden shelves, to add that perspective to the internal conversation.

It doesn't sound like there is actually a problem though.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:45 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


The last thing we need is the FDA prevented from actively regulating the unambiguously unsanitary practices

I'd like a cite, please, for these allegedly unambiguously unsanitary practices involving wooden aging boards and shelves. It's really weird to see you say that when he's specifically talking about aging on wooden boards, a thing that even the FDA has acknowledged it does not have evidence to support the allegation of being unambiguously unsanitary.

compartment's comment quotes and links to FDA and other documents that say that contamination was found on a variety of surfaces in that facility. I didn't see anything in those links that says the wooden aging boards were solely responsible, nor does there seem to be much evidence - as even the FDA admits - that definitively shows that wooden boards cannot be adequately cleaned.
posted by rtha at 10:10 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]


"While Welch is clearly overstepping his knowledge here, if we "leave science to scientists," there'd be far fewer laws that actually do protect the public. And scientists aren't always the best judges of public policy — see Robert Kehoe."
The legacy of TEL is an odd example to bring up, particularly here, where so many in this thread are falling back on exactly the Kehoe paradigm, summed up by him as "show me the data." Besides, Senator Muskie's historic legislative interference in the issue couldn't be more different, where it both followed the expert scientific advice of the Surgeon General and largely focused on the philosophy of the Kehoe paradigm and the kinds of appropriate interference Kadin2048 is advocating, as opposed to just providing a gross blanket protection of industry regardless of scientific truth.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:13 AM on June 11


It's fun, thinking things, isn't it? I did it once, got a bit vertiginous and quickly turned on the TV to put a stop to it.

Presumably cheez whiz and bud light would also do the trick.
posted by No Robots at 10:14 AM on June 11


"I'd like a cite, please, for these allegedly unambiguously unsanitary practices involving wooden aging boards and shelves."
It may have gotten lost in this large thread but The FDA Warning Letter to the Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese Company outlines high levels of shit bacteria in their cheese, repeated failure to even attempt to clean food contact surfaces, as well as Listeria contamination found both in cheese and on many of the food contact surfaces including their wooden boards.

What this does, now that the Federal FDA is directly enforcing its own guidelines rather than leaving it to the States, is a need for them to do exactly what they are currently doing, "engage with the artisanal cheese-making community to determine whether certain types of cheeses can safely be made by aging them on wooden shelving." Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vermont) is apparently either to vain or to stupid to let them.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:33 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


Blasdelb - I don't think a facility that has listeria literally everywhere is the best case for "wooden ripening boards create a risk of listeriosis"
posted by JPD at 10:37 AM on June 11 [5 favorites]


and yet I agree some congressman trying to find a legislative solution that eschews examining the science and if this is or is not an acceptable risk is stupid.
posted by JPD at 10:39 AM on June 11


many of the food contact surfaces including their wooden boards

Yeah. Wooden boards are not immune from contamination, which makes them exactly like every other surface that doesn't live in an properly functioning autoclave. The science is still very much out on the role wooden boards themselves and only themselves play in listeria (and other pathogen) contamination.
posted by rtha at 10:43 AM on June 11


I mean seriously what the fuck. People have been making cheese like this for centuries if not millennia. The problems are pretty well worked out by now.--posted by feckless fecal fear mongering

Eponhysteria is upon me.
posted by No Robots at 10:48 AM on June 11 [4 favorites]


"Blasdelb - I don't think a facility that has listeria literally everywhere is the best case for "wooden ripening boards create a risk of listeriosis""
What the facility that has Listeria literally everywhere does though is demonstrate that we need evidence based procedures for ameliorating the risks associated with Listeria on the wooden boards where Listeria was also found, like we do for steel and plastic surfaces, or of course no wooden boards if that isn't a thing that turns out to be possible. It looks like the procedures mandated by the Wisconsin State government aught to be perfectly adequate, but the onus of demonstrating that that is and should be on the people who want to use wooden boards. We use the precautionary principle for very very good reasons.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:51 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


Blasdelb. Seriously. You've been asked a bunch of times: where is the evidence that wooden aging boards are responsible for outbreaks of listeria? Why are you ignoring that the increase of listeria in France cannot be traced to food-borne problems?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:18 PM on June 11


fffm, you've got this backwards. The better question is instead, is the evidence that wooden shelf inoculation is indeed safe, when the shelves are maintained under some yet unspecified cleaning and testing regimen, sufficient? The Kehoe paradigm that you are invoking does not work as a regulatory strategy, the onus absolutely needs to be on industry to prove that the shit they do is safe, and while it looks like they'll be able to - it has got to be on them to convincingly do it. There is clear evidence that Listeria can spread through cheese, clear evidence that poorly maintained surfaces make those outbreaks worse, and insufficient evidence for what is appropriate maintenance for wooden surfaces. That means that there is now at least plausible reason to think that wooden shelves could potentially contribute to making outbreaks worse, which means that the precautionary principle is appropriate to invoke. If clear evidence were necessary for concern and regulatory pressure then they would never be applied until well after it was way too late.

The appropriate way forward is exactly what is happening now, where the FDA is now working with cheese makers to help them back up their shit, assuming of course that indeed they can because they still need to convincingly demonstrate it.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:41 PM on June 11 [4 favorites]


So you have no evidence for what you are stating. That's odd behaviour for a scientist.

That means that there is now at least plausible reason to think that wooden shelves could potentially contribute to making outbreaks worse

There is far more plausible reason to think that cantaloupes cause outbreaks of listeria.

Again, do you have proof that wooden aging boards (which have been in use effectively forever) specifically cause listeria outbreaks? Yes or no?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:55 PM on June 11


fffm, he answered that in a nuanced way in the post above yours. Are you incapable of finding your answer there? Are you in need of a very clear "no", just so you can go "Ha! You admitted that the answer is 'no' with some complicated caveats I don't want to engage with, so I win!"?
posted by gilrain at 2:26 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


"So you have no evidence for what you are stating. That's odd behaviour for a scientist."
I'm talking about the philosophy of science, how interpret we deal with evidence and a lack of evidence, which is what we have here.

Science is much much more than just the simplistic list of facts that are true to the exclusion of things that aren't true that most of us only scratched the surface of and then largely forgot from boring classes in high school. It is a process, a verb, arrived at through hard won knowledge of processes that don't work. Scientists don't prove things, only mathematicians get that privilege, but we know from long bitter experience that if we demand clear demonstrations of harm before we do anything about plausible ones, we end up with a fuck ton of harm.
"There is far more plausible reason to think that cantaloupes cause outbreaks of listeria."
Not even fucking close, cheese and listeriosis is a big deal, but if there were some plausible addressable mechanism that could explain why cantaloupes caused that one outbreak, we'd expect cantaloupes farmers to deal with that shit too.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:29 PM on June 11


The FDA is supposed to be science-based, yes? They are supposed to make their decisions based on actual research, right?

I recognize that this is Blasdelb's field. What I want--as have several other people in this thread--is acknowledgement that there is, in fact, no scientific evidence for the decision that the FDA made. Is that clear enough for you?

I resent your childish implications.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:30 PM on June 11


The science paradigm tends to be anti-biotic: Deader is safer. This makes the place of wood surfaces in food preparation very shaky. Wood does host living organisms, which is in fact part its role in food-preparation. If the standard is based on a verifiably abiotic environment, then wood fails. The interaction of wood and micro-organisms is poorly understood. If we want to be wood-friendly and scientifically rigorous, then we have to spend the time, money and effort on really understanding the complex micro-biomes that exist in traditional food preparation environments. But this very complexity puts it beyond the reach of pass/fail testing, other than as simple measurement of contaminants without comprehensive vector analysis.
posted by No Robots at 2:40 PM on June 11


"Wooden boards are not immune from contamination, which makes them exactly like every other surface that doesn't live in an properly functioning autoclave."
Wooden boards are indeed different from other surfaces that are commonly used in cheese preparation, like stainless steel, in one maybe subtle but very important way. We have evidence based procedures for addressing the potential for Listeria contamination on stainless steel that are demonstrably effective at eliminating it and limiting the spread.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:44 PM on June 11


Great. So let's get some evidence that wooden boards can or cannot be similarly treated so as to eliminate or lessen the ability to host bad bugs. We don't seem to have it. Let's get it.

Stainless steel isn't magic, and neither is plastic; both can and do allow for the spread of bad bugs despite being sterilizeable.
posted by rtha at 3:24 PM on June 11 [3 favorites]


This is basically all the FDA is saying,
"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."
posted by Blasdelb at 4:29 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


Stainless steel isn't magic, and neither is plastic; both can and do allow for the spread of bad bugs despite being sterilizeable.

It's not magic but there are some pretty obvious qualities that make it easier to clean and sanitize. It's non-porous so bacteria can't get inside of it and when being used and cleaned it doesn't scratch easily to create crevices for bacteria to get into. Whereas wood is highly porous and microorganisms can easily live in it, which I assume is the reason why it's used in cheese making to begin with. I agree with you that it's probably possible to sanitize wood but I think you are downplaying the challenges involved.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:29 PM on June 11


I'm not trying to downplay anything: I have no idea how difficult it is or not to treat a wooden surface so that it's clean in the way that steel/plastic can be clean. That's why I keep asking that we start making evidence.

This thread has had a lot of people who strongly imply or say outright that anyone who's going "WTF, FDA?" must hate food safety regulations, as if it's a given that wooden aging boars must present such an obvious risk that they should be banned. I'm saying there's no evidence yet for that "obvious" risk, and please let's get some.

The antibacterial properties of wood may have some advantages that outweigh its porous surface. We don't know, is my point.
posted by rtha at 6:37 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


I guess I'm confused then, what other reason could there be to be going "WTF, FDA?" here? Forcing companies to demonstrate that the shit they do is safe for consumers is what contemporary food safety regulation looks like, what about that is there not to like?
posted by Blasdelb at 6:03 AM on June 12


Well, the ad absurdum argument would be that to adopt this view is to adopt the view that we need to stop eating all foods that can be shown to have some health risk (not just bacterial risk), even if that risk is statistically minute, until producers can prove that food is is safe with great statistical weight. That conceivably reaches a whole lot of food.

A lot of us don't want to live in that world.

There's also the whole thing about protecting traditional foodstuffs/methods/practices even if they aren't as safe as those developed today. It's true that excepting certain traditional/artisinal production methods invites abuse by those looking to couch mass-produced low-quality food as 'traditionally made' so it can be dumped on poorer market segments -- but that can properly be guarded against in the regulation. That is, were the regulatory apparatus not so captured by the big conglomerates.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:53 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


The smallest of producers are already exempt from an astounding amount of safety regulation for exactly this reason, but once money starts getting made and the number of people put at risk at one time climbs, companies taking shortcuts on safety should be shut down until they stop doing that - regardless of whether they wear suits or crunch granola.

The philosophy of cGMP is a bit more subtle than what your argument ad absurdum is critiquing. The FDA currently doesn't shut down risky practices exactly but shitty ones, though the two do make an almost round Venn diagram. An extreme example of this is how Fugu is legal to prepare and sell, but only when prepared by state licensed chefs who have been certified as knowing what they are doing and being at least unlikely to kill someone. The FDA's concern here is a reflection of how they expect manufacturers to use processes that are clearly defined and controlled, to meaningfully evaluate any changes to their process, to generate records during manufacture that demonstrate that safety was maintained, and to ensure that their processes remain hygienic.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:49 AM on June 12


Unless it's chicken.
posted by Nelson at 9:19 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


Forcing companies to demonstrate that the shit they do is safe for consumers is what contemporary food safety regulation looks like, what about that is there not to like?

Wait, should the burden of proof be the other way around? Shouldn't something, especially with a history of hundreds of years without clearly defined cases where problems can be demonstrated? AFAIK, listeria problems come from contaminated milk, not the aging process.

Even then, people out to be given the chance to make an informed decision. I'm sure most people who prefer the richer flavors of raw milk cheeses wouldn't be upset if such cheeses carried a warning label for pregnant women.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 11:12 AM on June 12


Changes in the overall food economy can make it dangerous to continue with traditional foods and food preparation. I mean, who would eat steak tartare that came from the same source as regular ground beef? It seems to me that the real need for regulation of artisanal cheese is in the area of raw materials. But that then puts the whole dairy industry under the microscope.
posted by No Robots at 2:26 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


Apparently the FDA has now reversed the decision! Wahey!
posted by themadthinker at 7:49 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


Here's the actual clarification, rather than the breathless blog post saying the 'cheese war is over'.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:00 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


I'm not surprised they took another look at this. The FDA has always struck me as a reasonably sane government agency doing as best as they can despite the crazy intense amount of lobbying they encounter from food and drug industries. I wish people would give them a little more benefit of the doubt, especially people who generally believe government regulation is a good thing.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:56 AM on June 13 [3 favorites]


I'm not surprised they took another look at this.

According to them (as linked by Happy Dave above) they never were actually looking in the first place. At least not in the way it was reported.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:02 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this whole sordid saga reminds me of the Gibson Guitars or Bundy Ranch things.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:11 PM on June 13 [2 favorites]


I wish people would give them a little more benefit of the doubt, especially people who generally believe government regulation is a good thing.
It is possible to simultaneously believe that government regulation is a good thing and be critical of apparent missteps. Institutions - private, public, for-profit and non-profit are inherently amoral. The people operating them may have the best intentions, but the institutions have no such thing. Be critical, otherwise your complacency will prove those who oppose government regulation to be correct.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:10 PM on June 13


Yeah, I just see good critical of them here as, "Huh, I guess they might have a valid concern about listeria but they are wrong because..." and less "every bite of artisanal cheese you take is one less Kraft single sold!"
posted by Drinky Die at 2:35 PM on June 13


Apparently the FDA has now reversed the decision! Wahey!

Thank goodness.
posted by homunculus at 10:49 PM on June 13


Four days ago I commented:

I don't really understand US politics, being a Brit, and some of my Wisconsin friends are pretty angry about this. Is this some kind of right wing punishment or revenge thing e.g. "Yes, okay, you can same sex marry in Wisconsin now but if you serve Bleu Mont Bandaged Cheddar at the wedding reception then it's 5 to 15 in the State Penitentiary."?

This morning I wake up to find that you can now serve Bleu Mont Bandaged Cheddar in Wisconsin - but you can no longer same sex marry there.

Dammit, America. Enough with the "You can have this freedom, but not that freedom. Either. Or. But not both." nonsense!
posted by Wordshore at 4:27 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


"Apparently the FDA has now reversed the decision! Wahey!"
There never was a decision to reverse. There is nothing to celebrate here because there was never anything to mourn but our own collective gullibility and impatiently angry ignorance.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:27 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


I wish people would give them a little more benefit of the doubt, especially people who generally believe government regulation is a good thing.

Then you should take that up with the media outlets misrepresenting the story in the news because it's not unreasonable for people to get up in arms over how this story was initially reported. We can't always blame the victims when it comes to misleading reporting--given the relentless pace of the production of bad reporting in the media these days, everyone's bound to get taken in or misled now and then. People need the media to do its job and report breaking news responsibly and soberly. Nobody can do it all for themselves without trusting others at some point.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:13 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


There is an upside here: due to this story I am now on a balcony enjoying a Limburger sandwich & a Russian imperial stout, so all's well that ends well!
posted by aramaic at 4:19 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


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