FDA moves to ban cheese aging on wooden boards

We warned at the time that the ill-conceived Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011 would tend to choke off many non-industrial food sources. Now the FDA, interpreting FSMA as part of its regulatory process, is moving to ban the aging of cheese on wooden boards, a process that dates back thousands of years and has been practiced safely by many of the world’s finest cheese makers. The agency apparently intends to apply the same standard to imported cheese as well, which means that in addition to devastating artisanal cheese producers in this country, the move would cut off Americans’ access to large numbers of classic European cheeses, many of which, like Comte and Reblochon, “are required to be aged on wood by their standard of identity.” [Jeanne Carpenter, Cheese Underground (Wisconsin); Matt Spiegler, Cheese Notes]

Our coverage of FSMA, including its many-sided impact on traditional and artisanal farm and food practice, is here.

More: “Old guy in the cell: What are you in for? New guy in the cell: I aged cheese on wooden boards.” [Scott Greenfield] Plus: William Watson, Cato; Greg McNeal, Forbes, on the legalities including an apparent shift in the FDA’s earlier stance approving wood board aging]

Update June 11: agency backs down.


  • […] Walter Olson at Overlawyered, the FDA has interpreted the Food Safety Modernization Act to preclude the aging of cheese on wood […]

  • This could potentially save these cheese aging shelved from needing replacement: http://goo.gl/TLPqcJ

    As this article states – “The shelves or boards used for aging make direct contact with finished products; hence they could be a potential source of pathogenic microorganisms in the finished products.” – so if the cheese is in a surface raised above the wood, it should be okay!

  • I imagine that since this has several classic political pressure buttons – agriculture, cultural foods, regional bias – that we’ll see Congress move to stop the FDA. Rather than fundamentally fixing the system that leads to this result, either the FDA or members of Congress will move to avoid the obvious excesses like this one.

    It’s also worth noting that artisanal cheese is something disproportionately consumed by wealthy and educated people, so banning its production is (unfairly) going to get a frostier hearing in DC than something like attacking Four Loko (viewed as a drink of the young or the poor).

  • I actually have a “cheese dealer” who sells me illegal cheese here in California. Now, I’m not crazy–I won’t eat unprocessed raw milk, etc. But I will eat cheese hand-crafted by a foodie with access to a commercial kitchen.

    Will I have to go to a “Cheeseeasy” to get my cheese in a few years?

  • Gone for good, beech wood aging, (Budweiser)
    No more Jack Daniels aged in oak barrels.

  • It’s comforting to know that the FDA is prepared to defend my right to Cheez Whiz and to protect me against those elitist, effete, Euro-trash, board-aged fromages. “Cheez Whiz — Yes we can cuz it’s in the can!”

  • Gas, and don’t forget wine.

  • Cedar plank anything.

  • I think it really comes down to one thing: if you are a really large producer of some product, you can afford to lobby your congressman to try to run smaller producers out of the market.
    Cheese, taxis, whatever; the big money guys win.

    This is just symptom of a government so large that it can destroy anything it wants.

  • marco73: the scarier possibility is that it isn’t. That this isn’t some regulatory-capture thing, this isn’t some government-industry collusion, this isn’t some nefarious scheme to destroy the imported cheese market.

    What’s scary is the possibility this is what these people think they should be doing. That this is, in the FDA’s mind, exactly what its mission is: To enforce regulations in a Procrustean manner, to eliminate the square pegs rather than finding a round hole to fit them in, to ban anything that isn’t compulsory. At least with businessmen there’s the possibility that someone will say “hey, there’s money to be made by meeting this demand”. With a holy cause there’s no negotiation, no reasoning, nobody to take to court. It’s For Your Own Good.

  • This is a good example of the type of “science” that progressives like to do. It starts with the precautionary principle, mixes in a bit of poorly-understood physical phenomena, spices it all up with mis-applied statistics, and then packages it in a childproof wrapper, at an inflated price.

    All for the greater good.

  • […] Critics like Walter Olson of the Cato Institute believe the real problem is the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of  2011. He warns it will target many other small food businesses with standards that differ from larger producers. On his blog Overlawyered, Olson points out: […]

  • @DD:
    You’ve figured it out! It’s for the children (and the Cheez Whiz).

  • […] Yes! Following an enormous outcry from cheese makers, commentators, and the general public, the agency beats a hasty retreat. Commentator/ Pepperdine lawprof Greg McNeil has the details at Forbes (and his earlier commentary on the legalities of the agency’s action is also informative). Earlier here. […]

  • […] the story is getting picked up in the blogosphere.  Overlawyered picks it up.  FoodRepublic. The Daily Caller.  Reason.  Vox.  Slate.  Cato.  Forbes.  […]

  • […] Following an enormous outcry from cheese makers, commentators, and the general public, the agency beats a hasty retreat. Commentator/ Pepperdine lawprof Greg McNeil has the details at Forbes (and his earlier commentary on the legalities of the agency’s action is also informative). Earlier here. […]

  • […] the FDA decided to ban the traditional French cheese Mimolette. More on the FDA and cheese here, here, here, […]