| WASHINGTON June 10
WASHINGTON June 10 The U.S. Food and Drug
Administration moved on Tuesday to tamp down fears among
artisanal cheesemakers that it was poised to ban the practice of
aging cheese on wooden boards.
The agency said it did not have a new policy banning wooden
shelves in cheese-making, adding there was no requirement in
recent food safety regulations requiring the agency to address
In January, Monica Metz, an FDA official, responded to
questions posed by the New York State Department of Agriculture
and Markets, which sought clarification on the FDA's policy
after several cheesemakers in the state were cited for their use
of wooden shelves during FDA inspections.
Metz said the use of the shelves did not conform to good
manufacturing practices that require that "all plant equipment
and utensils shall be so designed and of such material and
workmanship as to be adequately cleanable, and shall be properly
Her comments caused a furor in the artisanal cheese-making
community, where rumors flew that the FDA was poised to ban the
"A sense of disbelief and distress is quickly rippling
through the U.S. artisan cheese community," wrote Cheese
Underground blogger Jeanne Carpenter.
The FDA said it had no new policy and had never taken any
action against a cheesemaker based solely on the use of wooden
shelves. Historically, the agency has cited cheesemakers when
shelves were poorly cleaned.
"In the interest of public health, the FDA's current
regulations state that utensils and other surfaces that contact
food must be 'adequately cleanable' and properly maintained,"
Lauren Sucher, an FDA spokeswoman, said in a statement.
"Historically, the FDA has expressed concern about whether
wood meets this requirement and has noted these concerns in
inspectional findings," she said. "FDA is always open to
evidence that shows that wood can be safely used for specific
purposes, such as aging cheese."
Fears over the rumored ban caused confusion about imports of
cheese from Europe, where wood-aging is used to make cheeses
such as Comte, Beaufort and Reblochon.
"Did the FDA just ban European cheese?" Cato Institute trade
policy analyst Bill Watson wrote in a blog post on Tuesday.
The European Union and United States are already at odds
over Europe's desire to keep the exclusive right to names such
as parmigiano reggiano and asiago, preventing U.S. cheesemakers
from marketing their products using those names.
Rebecca Sherman Orozco, a spokeswoman for the American
Cheese Society, said that "for centuries, cheesemakers have been
creating delicious, nutritious, unique cheeses aged on wood."
The FDA's Sucher said the agency would "engage with the
artisanal cheese-making community to determine whether certain
types of cheeses can safely be made by aging them on wooden
(Reporting by Toni Clarke in Washington; Editing by Peter