FDA to re-evaluate safety criteria for raw milk cheese

February 11, 2016

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that it will re-evaluate the criteria by which it determines the safety of raw milk cheese. Additionally, it will look at what role non-toxigenic E. coli should have in identifying and preventing insanitary conditions and food safety hazards for both domestic and foreign cheese producers.

The FDA has experienced some pushback from cheese producers who question testing raw milk cheese for the presence of non-toxigenic E. coli. According to the FDA, it tests cheese samples for non-toxigenic E. coli because if found above a certain level, it could indicate unsanitary conditions in a processing plant.

The agency will re-evaluate its criteria in the context of the overarching framework for the oversight of food production provided by the 2011 FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The Preventive Controls for Human Food rule mandated by FSMA, which became final in September, requires that food producers identify hazards in their product and operations and put controls in place to prevent or minimize those hazards.

Looking ahead, with the FSMA preventive controls rule now final, the FDA will be taking another look at what role non-toxigenic E. coli should have in identifying and preventing insanitary conditions and food safety hazards for both domestic and foreign cheese producers.

The FDA will also consider and update, as appropriate, the 2010 Compliance Policy Guide, which outlines safety criteria. The agency will be working with stakeholders and experts to discuss such issues as the use of a single bacterial criterion for both pasteurized and raw milk cheese, and the use of non-toxigenic E. coli as an indicator organism.

The agency will continue to inspect cheese-making facilities and test for pathogens in domestic and imported cheese but, in the meantime, the FDA is in the process of pausing its testing program for non-toxigenic E. coli in cheese.

Press release