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FDA Finds Pathogens In Less Than 1% Of Raw Milk Cheeses Sampled
In Light Of Findings, FDA Doesn’t Anticipate More Large-Scale Raw Milk Cheese Sampling
After testing a total of 1,606 samples of raw milk cheese in 2014 and 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found raw milk cheese aged 60 days to have less than a 1 percent contamination rate for Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, E. coli 0157:H7 and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), according to test results released Thursday by FDA.
In light of its findings, FDA said it does not anticipate additional large-scale sampling of raw milk cheese but plans to continue to utilize its domestic and imported cheese compliance program for routine sampling of cheeses.
In addition, the agency intends to continue to sample raw milk cheese using its longstanding approach to food sampling, which centers on the following criteria: a firm has a previous history of unmitigated microbiological contamination in the environment and/or in finished product; or for cause (i.e., when inspectional observations warrant collection of samples for microbiological analyses).
The overall contamination rate for generic E. coli in FDA’s sampling was 5.4 percent. While the prevalence for generic E. coli was comparatively high, FDA said it “bears mention that it rarely causes illness even as it may signal insanitary processing conditions.”
Two years ago, FDA set out to collect and test raw milk cheese aged 60 days as part of a new proactive and preventive approach to sampling with the ultimate goal of keeping contaminated food from reaching consumers. FDA issued the raw milk cheese assignment in January of 2014 along with two others (for sprouts and avocados) as the initial commodities under its new sampling.
The agency collected 1,606 samples of raw milk cheese from February 19, 2014, to November 3, 2015, under this assignment. Of the total, 473 samples (29 percent) were taken from domestically produced raw milk cheese, and 1,133 samples (71 percent) wert taken from raw milk cheese of international origin.
The objectives of FDA’s raw milk cheese sampling assignment were: to determine the prevalence of Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and STEC (primarily E. coli 0157:H7) in raw milk cheese aged 60 days; to determine if there are common factors associated with positive findings (such as origin, variety or manufacturing practice); to take appropriate regulatory action when positive findings are observed; and to explore new processes and parameters to strengthen the agency’s current approach to sample collection and analysis.
As directed by the assignment, FDA field staff collected 473 domestic samples of raw milk cheese from three types of establishments: manufacturers, distribution centers or warehouses, and retail stores.
Samples were collected in 38 states and Puerto Rico. Among the state totals, FDA collected the largest number of samples in Wis-
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