FDA questions safety of raw milk cheeses - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

FDA questions safety of raw milk cheeses

MONTICELLO (WKOW) -

Federal health officials are questioning the safety of cheeses made from raw milk.

This month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released initial results of a study conducted on the risk of bacterial infection when consuming raw milk cheeses. The FDA found the risk of listeriosis from soft-ripened cheeses made with raw milk is up to 160 times higher than the risk from eating soft-ripened cheese made with pasteurized milk.

Health officials say consuming raw milk and raw milk products generally poses a higher risk from pathogens than pasteurized milk and its products. The bacteria could be especially dangerous for people with weakened immune systems, including older adults, pregnant women and children.

Wisconsin cheese experts say raw milk cheese is made here, but it's a specialty product that only makes up a small fraction of the 2.8 billion pounds of cheese the state produces annually.

John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, says raw milk cheese is a specialty product that only makes up a fraction of the 2.8 billion pounds of cheese the state produces annually, but area cheese makers who produce it believe in its safety.

Umhoefer says health officials have proposed extending the aging period on these cheeses from 60 days to 100 days to ensure safety. The longer a cheese ages, the more good bacteria forms, killing harmful pathogens.

"The bottom line is we want to do what's right for the consumer and if that involves a little more aging time, I know that could impact some of our members but I think we have to look at the end game and that is putting out a safe product," says Umhoefer.

Soft cheeses have a shorter shelf life, so tighter regulations could put an end to raw milk soft cheeses, like brie.

Bruce Workman owns Edelweiss Creamery in Monticello. He crafts 28 varieties of cheese, including a specialty Swiss cheese made with raw milk. Workman says the raw milk he uses comes from a trusted farmer whose cows graze Wisconsin pastures. Workman says the flavor from grass-fed cows is taken away by pasteurization, but he believes his process is safe.

Pasteurization requires 160 degrees to nearly sanitize the milk. Workman heats the raw milk up to 145 degrees.

"What that does is it knocks down the numbers of unwanted pathogens that are in there, it doesn't sterilize the milk, it gives it the ability to retain the flavor profiles that are in that milk," says Workman.

Those flavors are what cheese makers believe make raw milk cheeses better. Workman says he makes two cheeses using raw milk only during the summertime when grass-fed cows produce the best milk. Those cheeses are aged up to a year so if the FDA were to extend the required aging period, his process would not be affected.

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The safety of cheese made from raw milk is being questioned by federal health officials.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released initial results of a study conducted on the risk of bacterial infection when consuming raw milk cheeses. The FDA study finds the risk of listeriosis from soft-ripened cheeses made with raw milk is up to 160 times higher than the risk from eating soft-ripened cheese made with pasteurized milk.

Health officials say consuming raw milk and raw milk products generally poses a higher risk from pathogens than pasteurized milk and its products. The bacteria could be especially dangerous for people with weakened immune systems, including older adults, pregnant women and children.

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