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Rep. Welch reacts to FDA "clarification" on use of wood shelves to age cheese

June 12, 2014
Press Release

Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT) made the following statement in response to a clarification yesterday by the FDA of its intent with respect to the permissibility of using wood shelves to age cheese in the United States:

“Like you, I am hearing reports, based on an FDA “clarification” issued yesterday, that the agency now believes wood shelves CAN be used to age cheese.  In essence, the statement says the FDA never held the position that wood was impermissible. 

Unfortunately, this “clarification” directly contradicts a clear statement of FDA’s position sent to my office on March 27 from headquarters staff.  (See the text of the email below.)

It appears the FDA’s right hand doesn’t know what its left hand is doing. Which FDA should cheese makers listen to?

Bottom line?  We are moving forward with our amendment to prohibit the FDA from banning this centuries-old practice.  Artisan cheese makers cannot afford to live with this threat to their livelihoods caused by regulatory ambiguity at the FDA.”

TEXT OF FDA EMAIL TO THE OFFICE OF REP. WELCH ON MARCH 27, 2014 AT 5:23 P.M.

“I inquired with FDA’s food center (the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition) regarding your question about the use of wooden shelves for the storing or aging of cheeses, and I was told they are not permitted and never have been.  The use of wooden shelves for cheese ripening does not conform to current Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) regulations, 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.”  See 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.  This has been borne out by recent academic studies showing that the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes survived cleaning and sanitation on wooden shelves used for cheese ripening.”

TEXT OF THE PENDING WELCH AMENDMENT TO H.R. 4800, THE FISCAL YEAR 2015 AGRICULTURE, RURAL DEVELOPMENT, FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT

“At the end of the bill (before the short title) insert
the following:

SEC. ll. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to establish, implement, or enforce any prohibition against aging or ripening cheese on wood under section 110.40 of title 21, Code of Federal Regulations.”

Click HERE for Rep. Welch’s bipartisan letter on his amendment to the House of Representatives signed by Members from WI, NY, MN, MI, NH, ME, TX, CA, OR, and CT

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