I have been reading the latest edition of the Specialist Cheese Maker’s Association leaflet, issue 80- dated December 2013 which has just landed on my desk. It says, in response to an enquiry from an enforcement officer – on the need for segregation of pasteurised and raw milk cheese at retail outlets and the use of separate knives and chopping boards, the FSA has advised:
‘unpasteurised cheese is a ready to eat food and previous controls should ensure that it is safe to eat and therefore they do not need to be separate from other ready to eat foods’
To my mind, this is actually a BIG DEAL and quite a change in attitude which I for one wholeheartedly applaud. Thank goodness for common sense, at last. I know a cheese maker who makes and sells unpasteurised cheese alongside pasteurised cheese at markets. His EHO caused him no end of hassle by insisting on having separate cutting boards, knives and display areas to the extent he no longer sells unpasteurised cheese.
We also make unpasteurised cheese, a raw cow’s milk Wensleydale and whilst we are ultra careful whilst processing and dealing with raw milk, e.g. washing hands, transfer from coat to equipment etc, because let’s face it, raw milk does contain E Coli and Listeria, hopefully in small quantities, but you never know………once the cheese has been tested for the usual culprits and a negative result achieved, we deem it to be as safe as all of our other pasteurised cheeses.
Until we receive the lab result which tells us it is safe to eat, sure, we keep it in a separate maturing room and it is ‘quarantined’ to the extent that we do not sell it until we have received the results. But once we deem it to be safe, we do not treat it in any different way to the rest of our cheese.
I remember having a conversation with our EHO about us making unpasteurised Wensleydale. I explained, somewhat nervously, because I was telling the truth but was unsure how well the conversation would go, that we did not do anything different: we cleaned with the same amount of thoroughness as pasteurised makes, because we clean down anyway to a certain standard, all of which is evidence based. If we didn’t, our lab results would tell us. I said, if we did clean more, then maybe we are not cleaning enough when we are making pasteurised cheese; when making pasteurised cheese, we are processing raw milk anyway, through the pasteuriser so the same standards apply with both types of make. He completely got this; we have a good EHO.
So….why do pregnant women always ask whether cheese is pasteurised or not, other than to tell the world they are pregnant? Do they really think we would sell cheese that has not been tested and deemed as safe as its pasteurised brothers and sisters?