ACS Member Alert: FDA Clarifies Position on
Use of Wooden Surfaces for Cheese Aging
FDA recently inspected several New York State cheesemakers and cited them for using wooden surfaces to age their cheeses. The New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets' Division of Milk Control and Dairy Services, which has allowed this practice, reached out to FDA for clarification on the issue. A response was provided by Monica Metz, Branch Chief of FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition's (CFSAN) Dairy and Egg Branch.
CFSAN's response indicates that the use of wood for cheese ripening or aging is considered an unsanitary practice by FDA, and a violation of FDA's current Current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) regulations.


Read the full response here, including scientific references, and see an excerpt below: 
"Microbial pathogens can be controlled if food facilities engage in good manufacturing practice. Proper cleaning and sanitation of equipment and facilities are absolutely necessary to ensure that pathogens do not find niches to reside and proliferate. Adequate cleaning and sanitation procedures are particularly important in facilities where persistent strains of pathogenic microorganisms like Listeria monocytogenes could be found. The use of wooden shelves, rough or otherwise, for cheese ripening does not conform to cGMP requirements, which 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 maintained." 21 CFR 110.40(a). 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."   


FDA does not consider this to be a new policy, but rather an enforcement of an existing policy. FDA has reiterated that it does not intend to change this policy


Cheesemakers importing cheese to the United States are subject to the same rules and inspection procedures as American producers. FDA has stated that it will be consistent in its application of the policy to both domestic and foreign producers.
For our Canadian members, it is our understanding that Health Canada does not currently have any regulations prohibiting aging and ripening cheese on wood.

What's Next?
ACS recognizes that this is a critical issue for many of our members. The ACS Regulatory & Academic Committee has mobilized to learn more about this issue, and to ensure that our members' interests are represented. Members will be kept apprised of developments via emailed Member Alerts, and in-person at the Annual ACS Conference in Sacramento.
Meanwhile, if your cheesemaking operation is inspected and cited for the use of wooden surfaces, please contact the ACS office (720-328-2788 or 

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