What the FDA Doesn’t Know About Farming and Food Could Fill an Encyclopedia

Corsican cheeseThis time they try to save us from some of the most delicious and healthy cheeses.
A few weeks ago, we reported on the continuing ramifications of the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which gave the FDA unprecedented power over farms and food producers. We told you how the agency’s FSMA rulemaking on “spent grain” threatened the livelihood of small breweries and farmers by interfering with millennia-old practices.
Having backed off, at least for now, on its spent grain rule, the FDA chose another target: artisanal cheese.
On June 7, the FDA announced it would no longer permit American cheese makers to age cheese on wooden boards or shelving. The decree came quietly, in response to a request for clarification from the New York Department of Agriculture: the FDA had cited several New York cheese producers for the use of wooden boards.
The response, issued by Monica Metz, head of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition’s Dairy and Egg Branch, stated that the use of wooden boards is unsanitary and violates the FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) regulations, because:

Wooden shelves or boards cannot be adequately cleaned and sanitized. The porous structure of wood enables it to absorb and retain bacteria, therefore bacteria generally colonize not only the surface but also the inside layers of wood. The shelves or boards used for aging make direct contact with finished products; hence they could be a potential source of pathogenic microorganisms in the finished products.

Interestingly, the FDA claimed that this wasn’t a new policy, but rather a mere “clarification” of already-established FSMA rules. One could certainly interpret this as an intentional bypassing of the public rulemaking process, as well as an exploratory flexing of the agency’s new FSMA muscles. According to Rob Ralyea of Cornell University, the FDA has previously referred cheese inspections to the states, but “this has all obviously changed under FSMA.”
Does the FDA have a legitimate concern when it comes to aging cheese on wooden boards? Is it true that they can’t be “adequately cleaned or sanitized?” Simply put, no. As thoroughly documented by the American Cheese Society, there are a number of effective ways that wooden boards can be safely cleaned.
Even if there was some increased risk, many consumers would still choose artisanal cheese. As detailed in Cheese Underground and echoed by the cheese trade groups, some of “the most awarded and well-respected” American artisanal cheeses are aged on wooden boards, since it brings a richer, more complex flavor that can’t be duplicated when aged on other materials. In fact, many artisan cheese recipes are specifically formulated to be aged on wooden boards. This rule could have irreparably harmed thousands of small artisans and businesses.
It would also have further restricted American citizens’ access to imported cheeses since, under FSMA, a producer importing cheese to the US is held to the same standards as American producers. (You may recall that last year, in a frenzy over raw milk and unpasteurized cheese, the FDA shut down the importation of most fine European cheeses. This followed other moves to stop the import of European cheeses over the years.)
The public backlash against the prohibition of wooden boards  was swift and immediate. So much so, that on June 11—just four days after the initial story broke—the FDA backpedaled by denying it had said what it clearly had said on the wooden board controversy:

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.

This is playing with semantics: while the FDA hasn’t taken enforcement action solely on the use of wooden shelves, they have chastised cheese makers for wooden boards in broader citations. The agency has used this tactic before—quietly slipping a significant policy change in a much longer warning letter—in an attempt to limit consumer free speech on the Internet.
Perhaps the FDA is testing the limits of its new FSMA powers. After all, this is the second time in 2014 that the FDA has indicated an alarming new twist in FSMA policy, only to backtrack and claim otherwise after intense public pushback.
Whatever the FDA’s intentions, we need to keep pushing back on new and unreasonable FSMA rules. It’s essential in the fight to protect small farmers and producers, as well as our access to wholesome, local, and non-industrialized foods.


  1. When will the USA realize that she can actually learn things from other countries? Be it regarding food, financial laws, gun laws – Europe definitely is worth comparing with.

  2. FDA should be investigating GMOs, pharmaceuticals & flouride in the water supply, and hormones in meat.

  3. There was a study published many years ago in Science News comparing plastic cutting boards with wooden ones. The researchers found that wooden cutting boards are more sanitary aw the wood seems to have within the wood itself antibacterial properties. Perhaps the research could be found, or repeated.

  4. There is such a thing as being “too clean.” The body requires contact with certain bacteria in order to develop antibodies. I do believe that children who do not have the opportunity to “play in the dirt” any longer are suffering healthwise. This purifying of everything is causing people to become ill from bacteria that, had they been exposed to it earlier, would not have had an effect on their health so as to make them immune at a later date.

  5. Having lived in France for a number of years I know the many fabulous cheeses American’s have never had the chance to taste, let alone buy in the own domain.
    These are things we must fight diligently!
    Keep real food available for real people who are interested in food that has not been designed to exterminate them!

  6. We need to push back, not just against FSMA, but against the FDA entirely. In my opinion, the FDA is the most corrupt agency in the US government. Period.

  7. All this while this government allows CAFO’s for meat that is filthy and antibiotic laden ; allows
    the Monsanto cabal to use glyphosate; and will probably allow 2,4 D (an agent in Orange agent ) to be used.
    But then Monsanto lobbyist -Michael Taylor- was appointed to be the fake protector of the US food supply.

  8. Years ago I heard a chef recommend wooden cutting boards because they were more sanitary than plastic. Wood contains natural antibacterial qualities whereas plastic has none. If this is true, the FDA does not know it’s science. I have used wooden cutting boards for meats and vegetables decades, and no one has ever gotten sick.

  9. It bothers me that the letters FDA stand for food and drug administration. Food is natural …or it should be….and can be used to cure ailments. Drugs are manmade chemicals, many if which will only mask symptoms and never cure anything. These two should be in the same category nor under the same judisticiton of the government. Am I really the only person in this whole country that finds the FDA a strange and horrble governing body??? Food should be under one administration and drugs a complete and unrelated administration.

  10. So the idiocy of US food policy keeps on keepin on. We’ve become a laughingstock. The FDA has very little to do anymore with food safety as it does with food profits for ‘food’ manufacturers. Stop those cheese artisans! SWAT the raw dairy guys. Encourage GMO pollination of organic neighbors. Subsidize the corn HFCS corporate agri-factories. Fine work, job well done!!
    So the vast majority of Americans are left with only bad choices at the grocery store. And they become sicker and sicker and fatter and fatter. Which enables the government to declare a ‘health crises’ to which the solution is to enable still other mega corporations to force ‘health solutions’ via the ACA that really don’t truly address health issues at all. The ‘health care industry’ has very little to do with health, just treating sick peoples’ symptoms …. who are sick because of the toxic crap they have to eat because of government regulations that aggressively prohibit the growing of truly healthy food. God, what a country. Fine cheese is the least of our problems.

    1. Artisanal cheeses “are not” the least of our problems, they are “just another brick in the wall” and an integral part of world culture that dates back thousands of years. Every little regulatory move by the “Food Cops” takes us a little closer to totally engineered food and a shorter life span. I wish I knew how to convince the Congress that they need to either rein in the FDA, or eradicate them entirely.

  11. I think that the FDA should be dismantled and really put out of Business. The FDA (for Payola) approves highly Profit making drugs that murder over 100.000 citizens each year, drugs that kill and not cure anything. Then to make matters worse this group of corrupt Petty uncontrolled Bureaucrats approve thousands of poison toxins to be laced into the foods that you feed your children. Toxin poison that make them sick in mind and body and no one will say a thing. WHY? It is because the Pharmaceuticals and Giant Food processors know which Bureaucrat and Politicians will sell out to get their palms greased with the Blood Stain Payola. I have written and in face told these corrupt Politicians with document information these facts, but who am I, a nobody for I do not have the funds to purchase their loyalty or vote. That goes for both parties. I have travel to many countries and eaten their foods in restaurants, Market places and even from the street vendors with out problems. But, I do not eat in restaurants or market places here in the USA as the processed foods are filled with toxic poisons all approved by the FDA and other Federal Agencies who want you sick and their Palms grease with the 30 pieces of blood stained Silver. I teach with a non profit group cooking classes which I titled “LEARN HOW TO COOK HEALTHLY OUTSIDE THE GOVERNMENT POISON BOX.” I know this rant will never be noticed as again I am a nobody, but 85 years old and still able to refuse the poison drugs pushed by the Pharmaceutical/AMA Trained Drug pushing Doctors. We read ingredients labels and put back the poison laden processed foods and I cook the healthiest that I can. If this bunch of corrupt Bureaucrats cut out good healthy cheese, I will make my own and I can do it as I have done it before. Enough said on my part, so have a great day. Chef Robert.

    1. That is not true of good restaurants in the USA; they use fresh meat, produce and other ingredients, not “processed foods”. In fact, where I live, the restaurants serve grass-fed beef.

  12. I urge the FDA to withdraw the new and unreasonable FSMA rules and allow the public to continue to enjoy age old cheese making via aging on wooden boards. I for one have a lactase
    intolerance and can only digest unpasteurized Swiss cheese
    Thank you.
    Shirley M. Brown

  13. There is ample proof that for cutting boards, the wooden boards are no less sanitary than the plastic and nylon types.
    An INTELLIGENT FDA ( oxymoron, i know) COULD insist on one use boards – DUHHHH!

  14. How absolutely absurd! Cheese has been successfully aged on wooden boards for years and we haven’t heard about any dangerous outbreaks from this. The old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” still stands. Leave these creators of the cheeses we we

  15. It’s been known for years that wooden cutting boards are safer than plastic. In one study researchers couldn’t even find traces of bacteria 12 hours after contaminating a wooden cutting board but the plastic boards were harboring plenty of bacteria in knife grooves. Maybe someone made the FDA aware of some of these studies.

  16. My understanding is that wood has protective natural chemicals that discourage bacterial growth and contamination. I’ve always understood that that’s mainly the reason they’ve been preferred over all other materials for thousands of years – they’re safer for food than other materials.
    As I understand it…many illnesses due to ‘handling’ issues started when plastic came into widespread use and replaced the wooden boards. The same argument was given then: plastic was cleaner because it could be washed and wood couldn’t.
    I have read that bacteria on plastic grows at alarming rates and even washing them in a dishwasher with heavy duty soaps doesn’t get them ‘clean’.
    This is particularly obvious for children’s toys. The plastic ones make kids sick. The wood ones don’t. Most articles warn that day care centers that have plastic toys wash them in dishwashers daily and still have extreme contamination problems with them.
    I’ve visited a couple of artisan cheese and bread makers’ facilities. Bacterial cultures are used to make their products. After a while, the only bacteria left alive in their premises are the ones they’re using for their cultures. This is especially true of artisan products such as sourdough bread. The air and surfaces are permeated with their sourdough yeast and nothing else grows in that environment. Many of the artisan facilities are extremely old and the equipment, tables and shelves can be a hundred or more years old. Yet, when tested, the only bacteria there is the beneficial ones used to make their products.

  17. How much cheese has Monica Metz made?
    How many people die of eating cheese vs taking corporate medicines?
    As an American citizen I choose to eat what I want to eat not what Monica Metz or any other policy maker chooses for me to eat.

  18. This nonsense about wooden boards will apparently never die. All the advice about using plastic boards was finally disproven when a cooperative extension agent decided to test both wooden and plastic boards for cleanliness. When plastic boards get cracked, as they eventually do, bacteria go into the cracks and multiply. On wooden boards, bacteria simply mysteriously disappeared; they did not live, they did not increase. I clean my wooden cutting boards with vinegar in a spray bottle; I never use soap.
    I think this stupid prejudice is the result of modern humans’ belief that things made in factories are clean, whereas nature is dirty. In reality, the opposite is true.

  19. It’s all in the corporate system of greed to cut out the little guy and force cooperation of improving their bottom line by creating laws that promote products by BigChemical, Big Ag, BigBiz, in short BigMoney. Of course plastic is better- for their profits, and of course cheese made from factory farmed animals fed GMO products in ‘clean’ factories is better – for their profits on chemical herbicides pesticides and cleaning supplies and on fancy equipment. So, to protect their interest they make laws to work for them by infiltrating the government…

  20. Ah, the FDA goes after the small, artisinal cheese makers for trumped up “crime” of using centuries old techniques, proven OVER CENTURIES in many cases to be safe and effective. Meanwhile, they still allow cheese whiz and nutrient deficient American cheese in school lunch programs. Go figure! They pick on the weakest leaving the most toxic FRANKENFOOD manufacturers to get stronger. Not fair, not equitable, not a democratic decision-making process. I would not go so far as to assume they are simply ignoramus’, they are following the precepts of their Corporate funding and political support…their system is seriously broken.

    1. You are so right! Kraft foods probably motivated such an idiotic regulation. The FDA is just a corporate and is making itself increasingly irrelevant.This is nothing but food fascism.

  21. I use H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide on my wooden cutting boards. Along with vinegar, it is safe, metabolizes into hydrogen and oxygen, leaves no carcinogenic compounds when it dries. When you condition your board with oil, add a few drops of oregano oil,GSE, lemongrass oil, or some other natural antibacterial. When it dries, the oils will not effect the flavor of things you cut on the board, providing you don’t add way too much of the essential oils. Like some of the other people pointed out, wooden boards were used for centuries with no problems, funny how magically it is unsafe!

  22. Some of you posters should seek out your local Co-op. They carry organic and non-GMO foods, meats without hormones and lots of foods that are not processed. Also keep in mind that far too many Americans prefer the processed foods for what they consider their “convenience”. If you want good, natural foods, you can find them. Of course, you will have to pay the price. Organically grown foods and grass-fed meat cost more than feed-lot meat and GMO vegetables, so you’ll still have plenty to complain about.

    1. Maybe organic, healthy foods cost a little more on the front end but on the back end (of life) you will be able to avoid docs and drugs. That’s what the FDA does not want to happen since they are in the pocket of Big Pharma.

  23. Oh, for goodness sake. It’s only been in the last 10 years or so that decent domestic cheese was finally widely available, and now they want to take it away? The whole raw milk phobia is ludicrous, and the whole germ phobia is wildly overblown. There are ways of using natural techniques and minimizing the risk of pathogens, and there are ways of exposing ourselves to small, healthy amounts of bacteria rather than trying to sanitize it all off–and then being walloped by some newly immune strain.

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