The Food and Drug Administration released on February 11 a draft assessment of the risk of listeriosis from soft-ripened cheese consumed in the United States and Canada. When the assessment is finalized, FDA intends to use it, along with other information and scientific assessments, in the agency's reevaluation of the current 60-day aging requirements for cheese made from raw milk.
The assessment, a joint effort between FDA and Health Canada, has been under development for the past five years. During that time, IDFA set up a plant visit for FDA inspectors and provided data in a company-blind fashion to help the agency gain an accurate picture. Cary Frye, IDFA vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs, also reviewed the draft assessment along with other external reviewers before it was released to the public.
Using Pasteurized Milk Most Effective Approach
The draft risk assessment provides a comprehensive look at how the risk of listeriosis can be reduced in soft-ripened Camembert cheese from both commercial cheese operations and smaller artisanal and single-herd farmstead operations. It confirms that making soft-ripened Camembert from pasteurized milk is the most effective approach to reducing the potential for listeriosis.
The assessment reviewed U.S. data on associated health risks for the elderly, who are more susceptible to illness. For this group, the risk of listeriosis from soft-ripened cheeses made with raw milk was estimated to be 112 times higher than that from soft-ripened cheese made with pasteurized milk. This finding is consistent with the fact that consuming raw milk and raw milk products generally poses a higher risk from pathogens than do pasteurized milk and its products.
“The vast majority of Camembert cheese consumed in the United States is made by commercial operations that already use pasteurized milk to make cheese and undertake extensive quality and safety programs to ensure the cheese is safe," said Frye. "The assessment should not have a direct impact on our members because they use pasteurized milk in cheese production.”
It is important for consumers to know that Camembert and soft-ripened cheese is safe, she added. Illnesses associated with listeriosis from soft-ripened cheese are very rare. The last outbreak in the United States was in 2006.
FDA invites comments that will help FDA and Health Canada improve the approach, its assumptions, the modeling techniques, the data used, and the clarity and transparency of the draft risk assessment documentation.
IDFA will work with the National Cheese Institute’s (NCI) Regulatory Committee to review the risk assessment and determine if comments are needed.
For more information, contact Frye at firstname.lastname@example.org.