Foodies beware: The FDA is coming for your French cheese

Story highlights

  • FDA rules target bacteria in French cheese
  • The bad kind of E. coli bacteria is the culprit
  • There is confusion over the rules, says a cheese shop manager
America's food police are patrolling and arresting suspicious French dairy products, which are either delicious cheese or a bacteria-laden menace. You decide.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Food and Drug Administration rules could effectively ban age-old recipes for cheeses like Roquefort, St. Nectaire, Morbier and Tomme de Savoie.
According to Washington's Righteous Cheese shop manager, Peter McNamara, imported soft cheeses of all kinds are especially hard to come by. "There's a lot of confusion (over the rules) ... getting hold of any soft cheese is really a pain," McNamara said.
The FDA says it is not aware of a cheese shortage. The food safety agency's concern is with the cheeses' two main ingredients: raw milk and bacteria. Too bad for foodies, the FDA doesn't care that bacteria makes cheese.
Since bacteria like E. coli and listeria kill people, all bacteria must be bad, right?
Well, the problem is our bodies are teeming with bacteria, even the dreaded E. coli, according to the World Health Organization.
Although we have plenty of non-toxigenic E. coli in our intestines, the toxic kind kills.
The FDA is testing for all kinds and giving out failing grades to cheeses that had too much of the non-toxigenic E. coli as well.
While non-toxigenic E. coli won't kill consumers, if a food production facility has it on the food, the FDA, after a long review process, determines it must be filthy.
According to FDA spokeswoman Lauren Sucher, "The current level is in line with standards around the world, and FDA expects that properly manufactured milk products, whether made from raw milk or pasteurized milk, should not be affected."
Presumably France does not agree.
In this case, the FDA made a new rule in 2010 to reduce the amount of allowable E. coli by 90%. But field officers hadn't been enforcing it until recently, according to the American Cheese Society's executive director, Nora Weiser.
The fact that the French producers of Roquefort can trace their production lineage back a millennium doesn't seem to matter to the FDA.
Earlier this year, the FDA similarly proposed banning wood-board aged cheeses because of bacteria. It later backed off.
French cheese makers aren't the only ones on the front lines of the FDA's war on raw milk. The FDA also has launched raids of Amish farms to wipe out the scourge of raw milk.