This past week the Food and Drug Administration ruled that they will no longer allow allow American cheese makers to use wooden planks during the aging process of cheese making.
In the ruling the FDA noted that this is not a new regulation, merely an enforcement of rules that are already in the books. Food safety rules require that all food contact surfaces are made cleanable, impermeable materials. The fear is that microbial pathogens could get into the pores of the wood, increasing the risk of Lysteria contamination in the cheese.
This is an ongoing effort by the FDA to shift the focus from responding to a contamination outbreak to preventing it. It is a part of the Food Safety Modernization Act that was signed into law by President Obama in 2011.
The FDA ruling, although not welcomed by artisan cheese makers, was not a surprise. Commercial cheese makers had already moved away from the wood aging method.
Artisan cheese makers say that the use of wood imparts flavor and character into their cheeses, and is the traditional method of ripening cheese. Many of the most awarded cheeses in the U. S. use the wood aging method.
The ruling is also said to affect cheese imports. Many European cheese makers use wood planks to age their cheeses. It will be interesting to see how this will affect the availability of artisan cheeses in the U. S.