Food safety regulations could soon take a big chunk of enjoyment out of unpasteurized cheeses, if federal regulators get their way.
ificant enough consumer health hazard, as hosts to deadly bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes, to warrant new processing rules.
Any statutes requiring pasteurized cultures would have a substantial impact on certain widely popular cheese families such as Swiss, Gruyere, Parmigiano-Reggiano and cheddar, among others. Enthusiasts argue that cheeses made with raw, or unpasteurized, milk possess bolder flavors and textures, products of the very enzymes and bacteria that would be destroyed through pasteurization.
To date, no outbreaks of disease have ever been attributed to raw cheeses in the U.S., but five cases were reported between 1983 and 1997 in Europe, including two deaths, according to experts familiar with the issue.
Currently, the U.S. allows only the sale of raw-milk cheese that has been aged for at least 60 days, enough time for the cheese's own acids and salts to neutralize potentially dangerous pathogens.
But Dr. John Mowbray, a safety analyst for the FDA who is participating in the investigation, said this alternative to pasteurization is based on technology and theories from the 1950s, and reflects outdated government policy. He supports the move to modernize the rules using the agency's improved understanding of illness-causing pathogens and microbiological testing techniques.
In response, the American Cheese Society, Delavan, Wis., and Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust, a Boston-based organization promoting traditional foods and lifestyles, have teamed up to form the Cheese of Choice Coalition, in an effort to maintain the availability of raw-milk cheeses. The group has hired a lawyer to lobby the FDA, stating on its Web site that it "supports safe hygiene in cheesemaking through procedures such as HACCP," but says that "there are no scientific reasons or health needs to compel the sacrifice" of raw-milk cheese.