Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I am facing a food safety dilemma. I did one of those rush food shoppings (mainly for dog food, but picking up a few other things as well) and ended up - accidentally - with some raw milk cheese. The dilemma: should I eat it or toss it out?

That's what happens when the so-called northern California "summer" is dark and gloomy and you feel like taking comfort in something delicious - and salty. When I picked up the cheese, all I read was "Product of France" and the word "aged." Just what I felt like. I didn't read the small print until I got it home: "Made from Raw Milk."

In general, I do not think that people who have compromised immune systems, are pregnant, or are over 50 (which unfortunately, I am) should risk their health eating raw milk cheeses when other delicious alternatives are available. The food safety regulations in the U.S. require that all raw milk cheeses be aged for a minimum of 60 days in order to be sold. This cheese met the current FDA requirements.

But I know that, while aging the cheese for 60 days is better than nothing, it is not enough. Such cheeses have been found to still carry live bacteria - enough to make you ill (see alerts column). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering tightening the rule (which is strongly opposed by the artisenal cheese industry). Getting food poisoning from Listeria monocytogenes or some other nasty bacteria is not what I had in mind right now. Right, this one had actually been aged 180 days, which is even better than 60 days. But, as a former microbiologist, I also know that some bacteria can survive very well in quite dry conditions for over 180 days. Even years.

So what do I do? I had an absolute craving for this cheese. The only other cheese I had available was a Chevre (made with pasteurized goat's milk), which didn't quite meet my need. Frankly, it had been a pretty rotten day, and I felt I owed myself something pleasant. Should I eat it and risk food poisoning, or throw it out (or give it to the dog) and be totally safe? It looks delicious..My inclination is to compromise..Maybe eat a little..

But there is another point here: not everything on a store shelf may be safe for YOU. We vary in terms of how vulnerable we are. In other words, just because a food is being sold, doesn't mean that you would be wise to eat it.

To your good health,

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oscar Wilde wrote something about the best pleasures being sinful, and therefore incurring risk.