Raw Milk Cheese in Australia: an Update

Many, many people are talking about the proposal to allow more raw milk cheeses to be made and imported, P1007. The proposal is still in progress and FSANZ are now calling for another round of public submissions – if you have been following this proposal from the beginning, it is important to note that there have been some changes to the scope.

As outlined in the 2nd Review Assessment document, the scope of proposal P1007 has changed. It has been narrowed to ‘Category 1’ (hard cooked) cheeses only. FSANZ is proposing a small change in the processing guidelines for locally made cheeses using raw milk as follows:

CURRENT CODE:

You can make cheese from unpasteurised milk, provided:

(i) the curd is heated to a temperature of no less than 48°C; and

(ii) the cheese or cheese product has a moisture content of less than 36%, after being stored at a temperature of no less than 10°C for a period of no less than 6 months from the date of processing

NEW PROPOSED CODE:

(i) the curd is heated to a temperature of no less than 48°C; and

(ii) the cheese or cheese product has a moisture content of less than 39%, after being stored at a temperature of no less than 10°C for a period of no less that 120 days from the date of processing

Even though this might seem like ‘not much progress’ there is certainly positive momentum for permitting a wider range of raw milk cheeses to be made and imported, ie ‘Category 2’ (semi-hard), as the 2nd Review Assessment states.

HOWEVER – in order for these products to be made safely, FSANZ has to develop comprehensive guidelines for producing, handling and making cheese out of raw milk. This will take a while – so in the meantime, FSANZ will change the code as detailed above to give cheese-makers and importers as much flexibility as possible in the short term.

After reading through the 2nd Review Assessment document on the FSANZ website, I had a few questions – Patricia Blenman from FSANZ gave me a few minutes of her time to discuss them.

Below, I have summarised our discussion (NB – I haven’t quoted Patricia directly, more paraphrased her and summed things up).

My questions to Patricia were along the following lines:

What should we cover in our submission – are you only asking for comments on the change to the Code 4.2.4 (above), or would it still be of benefit to include our general views on raw milk cheese?

We should comment on the proposed change in the Code AND we can include any other views / arguments we want to as well. So, for example, I will be saying something like: I welcome the change in code 4.2.4 to allow for a greater range of raw milk cheeses to be made in Australia. I also welcome any future plans to expand the range of raw milk cheeses that can be imported and made in Australia because I feel it is important step forward for consumer choice and for our industry to be internationally competitive. I will also include other comments about my support for raw milk cheese in Australia.

NB there are also guidelines for submissions provided on the FSANZ website here.

Why has the scope been narrowed to just Category 1 cheese?

The small change is to provide consistency between approved hard and Swiss cheeses for import (eg, Sbrinz and Emmenthal) and locally made cheeses ie, – this gives local cheese-makers a ‘level-playing field’: if you can import it, you can make it (exception: Roquefort).

OK – so there are provisions in the Food Standards Code for making raw milk cheese – does that mean that all Aussie cheese-makers can make them now?

Well – yes and no. It is certainly permitted under the Code, BUT each state has its own ‘Food Safety’ enforcement agency – like The NSW Food Authority and Tasmanian Dairy Board. These state authorities are responsible for licensing cheese-makers and ultimately have the final say whether they can make raw milk cheese.

But Roquefort is made overseas and it is considered safe to import – why can’t we make a similar cheese here?

Europe has been making raw milk cheese for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. People making these cheeses are familiar with handling raw milk and there are also complex safety procedures in place that cannot simply be ‘cut and copied’ for Australia. Under a new proposal next year, FSANZ will start to work on raw milk handling and cheese-making procedures for local cheese-makers (HACCP plans etc) so we can make Category 2 cheeses (semi-hard).

I also asked Patricia about the risk of environmental contamination – especially listeria. Regardless of whether a cheese is made from raw or pasteurised milk, there is a risk it can be contaminated through poor handling and storage – so in theory, if the raw milk is clean and bacteria free, it should be as safe as a pasteurised cheese. Patricia acknowledged the risk of environmental contamination and said that there will be a new FSANZ proposal next year reviewing acceptable limits for listeria (among other things) in all ready to eat foods.

So

Yes – it is a small, tiny step, but at least a step in the right direction!  Remember – FSANZ is an agency that creates guidelines to make sure our food is safe. It is a big responsibility. They rely on processes and science – they aren’t going to just change the law overnight.

All I can say is – get your submissions in and keep pushing! Keep voicing

your opinions. Every submission counts – be part of the raw milk revolution!

You have until 6pm, October 14th 2011 to make your views heard.

Patricia – thanks for your time.

Via Closetothewedge.blogspot.com

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