Is it sanitary to age cheese on wood?

CREATED Jun 11, 2014

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Aging cheese on wood is a time-honored tradition. But the FDA is concerned about the practice, specifically, the wood used in the process.

A ruling by the FDA has upset members of the Wisconsin cheese industry.

Ben Raatz has been selling cheese for the last eight years. Some of his customers specifically ask for wood-aged cheese.

"Limburger, for example, won't exist anymore in America,” explains Ben Raatz of the Wisconsin Cheese Mart. “Wisconsin's the only place that makes Limburger anymore in America."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration worries aging cheese on wooden boards could be a breeding ground for bacteria like Listeria. The crack-down came after the FDA cited New York cheese makers for using wooden shelves.

"I don't think there's any basis for calling the wooden boards unsanitary. There’ve been no recalls on cheese concerning wooden boards," adds Raatz.

He tells TODAY’S TMJ4 at least 25 percent of the cheese he sells is aged on wooden boards.

"We buy wheels from Marieke Gouda, and if we don't age them to the proper age, on pine planks, we can't get stickers for them,” explains Raatz.

In a new twist, we've learned that the FDA has now backed down in their fight, and said they don't have a new policy banning the use of wooden shelves in cheese-making.

They said in a statement: "The FDA’s current regulations state that utensils and other surfaces that contact food must be "adequately cleanable" and properly maintained.”

A minimum of 20 million pounds of cheese rests on wooden boards in Wisconsin.