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Do dangerous organisms lurk in your favorite unpasteurized cheese?

Do dangerous organisms lurk in your favorite unpasteurized cheese?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Au revoir, Roquefort! So long, Emmenthal Swiss! Nice knowing you, farmhouse Cheddar! And Parmigiano Reggiano -- it's been grate, but stay off the spaghetti.

These and other classic cheeses made from raw milk could be only aromatic memories if U.S. government scientists conclude that the same old-fashioned method that makes them taste good could also make people sick.

The very idea has sparked consternation, and an Internet petition drive, among hard-core cheese fans and traditional American cheese makers. To them, such a move would be tantamount to the end of civilization as they know it.

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"It would be like burning up the scores of a just-discovered symphony by Beethoven," said Dun Gifford, who heads a U.S. group that aims to preserve traditional ways of food preparation. "It's just as much a cultural icon as dance, music or architecture. It would be a tragedy; we'd lose richness in our lives."

American Cheese Society President Ruth Flore said by telephone from Wisconsin, a key dairy state, "What we are looking to do is to convince the FDA to keep the status quo. If the FDA forces the cheese makers to pasteurize their products, then they'll be sacrificing a significant level of taste."

And even as the price rose, the quality of the cheese would decline, Johnson said by telephone. "It's like paying more for yuck."

Gifford blamed what might be called "Big Cheese" for the controversy in the United States, alleging that large manufacturers, which already pasteurize their cheese, may be behind the FDA's testing regime.

The FDA denied this and so did Susan Ruland, a spokeswoman for the National Cheese Institute, which represents companies that make 80 percent of the cheese in the United States, including giants like Kraft, a unit of Philip Morris Cos. Inc., and smaller firms like Cabot Creamery of Vermont.

"We don't see a movement to pasteurize. ... I'm not exactly sure where this fear is coming from," Ruland said in a telephone interview.

However, she noted, "The pathogen environment is not a static one." Just because the traditional method of making raw milk cheese has been in use for centuries does not mean it cannot be associated with food-borne disease.

"Listeria wasn't even discovered as a food-borne illness until a couple of decades ago," Ruland said. "We don't face the same issues we faced 100 years ago."

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



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