MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Cheese producers won’t necessarily have to lose the wooden boards they use to age their products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday, after protests by officials from Wisconsin and elsewhere.
The FDA issued a statement saying the agency is going to work with artisan cheese producers to determine whether certain types of cheese can be aged safely on wooden shelving, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. The wood-board aging process impacts the smell and taste of cheeses.
“Historically, the FDA has expressed concern about whether wood meets this requirement and has noted these concerns in inspectional findings,” the FDA said in the statement. “The FDA is always open to evidence that shows that wood can be safely used for specific purposes, such as aging cheese.”
Earlier, the FDA had said the boards are unsanitary and pose a health risk.
The FDA’s statement was issued in response to a letter written by Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection secretary Ben Brancel urging FDA officials to take a second look at its policy, department spokesman Jim Dick said.
“I am pleased to see the FDA responding quickly to this important matter,” Brancel said.
Wisconsin, which leads the nation in cheese production, permits the use of wooden boards to age cheese as long as producers follow industry procedures for keeping them sanitary. More than 20 million pounds of state cheese ages on wood, according to John Umhoefer, the executive director of the Wisconsin Cheesemakers Association.
The FDA heard from several other Wisconsin officials, including Gov. Scott Walker, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, and state Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center. Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross also talked to FDA officials.
Pocan said he was planning to join members of Congress from Wisconsin and other states to introduce a bipartisan amendment that would prevent the FDA from banning the use of wood to age cheese.