Quarterly updates on ACS's efforts to promote, preserve, and protect traditional cheesemaking.

Agricultural Appropriations Bill Language Urges FDA to Keep Artisan Cheese Industry Front of Mind

The Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, at the behest of Senators Patrick Leahy (VT) and Tammy Baldwin (WI) along with Congressman Mark Pocan (WI), included language on our industry's ongoing struggles with FDA in the FY17 Agricultural Appropriations Bill. Specifically, the language addressed FDA's pausing of enforcement of its July 30, 2015 guidance for permissible levels of nontoxigenic E. coli in raw milk cheese.
The language included in the report keeps our concerns at the forefront, and hopefully will mean continued forward momentum in our efforts for clear, reasonable, and meaningful regulation for artisan cheesemakers.
"While the Committee appreciates the FDA's willingness to pause enforcement and reevaluate its standard regarding permissible levels of nontoxigenic E. coli in raw milk cheese, it remains concerned that this standard was developed in the absence of any published data from controlled studies describing either the process or rate of transfer of bacteria from the environment in the plant to the product. Therefore, the Committee directs the FDA to continue working with stakeholders to benefit from their expertise about safe cheese-making practices to achieve the mutual goal of food safety, and to provide to the Committee on Appropriations the results of the "Surveillance Sampling Program for Raw Milk Cheese."

Preventive Controls Working Group to Convene in Des Moines

Continuing ACS efforts to develop Preventive Controls (PC) for artisan cheesemaking that reflect stakeholder realities, ACS will be convening a Preventive Controls Working Group in Des Moines this summer. This is the next step in our ongoing efforts to work with FDA within their existing structures and protocols while advancing understanding that artisan cheese, and in particular raw milk cheese, can be -- and is regularly -- made safely.

FDA is currently reviewing, and will provide technical feedback on, the ACS Best Practices Guide for Cheesemakers -- they view this as a starting point for developing a Preventive Control guidance. As such, this PC Working group will be tasked with reviewing available resources and technical documents, and developing some agreed upon PCs. This will include...[continue reading]

Artisan Cheese Food Safety Advisory Group

In August 2015, a two-day Artisan Cheese Food Safety Forum was held following the ACS Conference in Providence, RI. The Forum was supported by a USDA NIFA grant to the University of Connecticut. The organizers included members from the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, University of Connecticut, and the Innovation Center for US Dairy, and participants included government representatives, manufacturers, retailers, consumer and industry groups, trade associations, scientists, and food safety educators. 
Following up on the outcomes of that Forum, the Innovation Center for US Dairy invited an Advisory Group of Forum attendees to participate in a more targeted discussion in Chicago last month.The broad goal of the group is to enhance food safety and pathogen control among artisan cheesemakers. The hope is that this goal will be achieved through the following strategies:
  • Develop and consolidate food safety education for artisan cheesemaking
  • Disseminate this education to as many producers as possible, with particular emphasis on the smallest producers with the least access to educational resources
  • Review, update, and keep resources timely
  • Proactively assess areas of need for research and scientific analysis
Initial plans are in the works to consolidate existing information and educational resources. The Forum clearly indicated that ACS is the go-to resource for artisan cheesemakers, so ACS will work to develop a central repository to ensure the accessibility of this information.

Update on ACS Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Requests for Data

On March 10, 2016, ACS submitted two FOIA requests to FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) for data pertinent to our members. One request was quickly filled, as it consisted only of FDA's notes from our February listening session. The other request was in two parts, both for extensive and detailed raw data on sampling programs conducted by FDA to inform their risk assessments and guidance to field inspectors. This data took much longer for FDA to sort and compile, and thus much longer for ACS to receive. Several FDA staff members were helpful in keeping this request moving forward, and ultimately we received the first batch of documents on June 2.
These internal FDA documents are from the "Raw Milk Cheese Sampling Pilot Program" and the program for "Environmental Listeria Sampling in Cheese Facilities," This information shows that artisan facilities had no greater presence of environmental listeria than larger facilities. The raw data and testing results are yet to be provided in full to ACS, but we are told they are forthcoming. These will help greatly in the development of guidelines and Preventive Controls that can have the most impact on improving and ensuring food safety in cheesemaking.

No Artisan Cheese Assignments Scheduled by FDA for FY2017 
ACS Board Member and Regulatory & Academic Committee Co-Chair, Bob Wills, attended IDFA's annual Regulatory Roundup in D.C. this week on behalf of ACS. We'll have his full report in the next issue of CheeseBytes, but here are a few quick updates on items pertinent to ACS stakeholders:
  • No assignments focused on artisan cheese are currently scheduled for FDA's 2017 Fiscal Year.
  • FDA's Hispanic cheese sampling assignment is nearing completion, with testing completed at 31 of its 50 identified facilities.
  • FDA will be training specialized inspectors so that its food plant inspectors will not be those individuals who normally, or also, inspect drug manufacturers. This retraining should better align with new FSMA parameters, and will probably absorb a lot of FDA's resources for the next year or two.
FDA Update to ACS Members Scheduled for Friday, July 29 in Des Moines

Dr. Nega Beru, Director of the Office of Food Safety (OFS) in the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will present a brief update to ACS members at Cheese in the Heartland, this summer's ACS Conference in Des Moines, IA. Previously, Dr. Beru served as Director of CFSAN's Office of Plant and Dairy Foods, and the Division of Plant Product Safety in that office. Please join us for Dr. Beru's presentation on Friday, July 29 from 12:30 PM - 1:15 PM at the Iowa Events Center. Admission is included in all full Conference registrations and Friday day passes.

5-Part "Safe Cheesemaking Series" at ACS Conference in Des Moines

Leading industry experts will break down the key components of safe cheesemaking in a unique five-part series at this year's ACS Conference in Des Moines. Sessions will be offered on Friday, July 29 and Saturday, July 30, and will be videotaped for those unable to attend.
The Safe Cheesemaking Series includes five sessions as follows:
All five sessions are included with full Conference registration and will take place at the Iowa Events Center.

Food Safety = Behavior

Knowing safe practices is only one aspect of food safety. The key factor in ensuring safety is the implementation of those practices, which means the compliance of those on the front lines. At the ACS Conference in Des Moines, Frank Yiannas, author of "Food Safety Culture: Creating a Behavior-Based Food Safety Management System," will provide fascinating insights into proven behavioral science principles with suggested applications on how they might be used to advance food safety, enhance employee compliance, and, more importantly, save lives.
Join Mr. Yiannas for his presentation, "Food Safety = Behavior," on Friday, July 29 from 8:30 AM - 9:30 AM in the Grand Ballroom of the Iowa Events Center. This general session is included in all full Conference registrations and Friday day passes.

Strength In Numbers: The State of the Artisan/Specialty Cheese Industry

Pictured from left to right: Pat Ford, Beehive Cheese Co. &  Alyce Birchenough, Sweet Home Farm
Recently, we launched an important survey on the state of the U.S. artisan and specialty cheese industry. Cheesemakers in the U.S. should have received an email from the University of Connecticut (UCONN), the academic partner conducting this research project on our behalf.

If you haven't done so yet, please set aside 20 minutes of your time to share some important -- and confidential -- information about your business. Your participation is critical! If you didn't receive the survey link, please contact Adam Rabinowitz at UCONN. Thank you for your participation in this important work! 
What's In a Name?

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN) will hold a joint informational session, "Are your Food Names Protected?," on June 21, 2016 in Chicago. Experts from the USPTO will discuss:
  • How intellectual property can impact your ability to use common food names
  • Tools available to protect product names and safeguard sales
  • USPTO's considerations in protecting trademarks and generic terms and names
  • The expanding threat of restrictions facing U.S. companies and their buyers

Food Safety & Regulatory News

FDA Slow Recalls Put Consumers at Risk -- Investigators: Consumers are 'at risk of illness or death' because of slow FDA recalls, Chicago Tribune

Next Role for Former FDA Deputy Director Mike Taylor -- FDA's former top food cop now focused on food security, Food Safety News 
Supermarket Parmesan Fails to Meet CFR -- Supermarket Parmesan, Cooks Illustrated

Europe wants U.S. Dairy Companies to Stop Using Generic Names like Parmesan and Feta -- The EU tries to grab all the cheese, Politico.com 
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