Thursday, November 21, 2013

Raw-milk cheese is risky

Raw-milk cheese is risky, yet legal to make and market in Canada.

It may be no riskier than many other foods, but it is, in fact, risky.

That’s why Health Canada says on its website that “pregnant women, children, older adults and people with a weakened immune system (should) avoid eating cheese made from raw milk.”

I guess the person who died this summer after eating raw milk cheese made on a farm in British Columbia, and contaminated with E. coli 1057:H7, didn’t know about that advice from Health Canada.

Health Canada says people ought to check cheese labels to know whether it’s been made from raw millk – i.e. never pasteurized to kill bacteria.

Ron Doering, who used to be president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and now works as a consultant and writes columns, says that’s not very helpful advice because there is no law requiring cheese to be labeled that it’s made from raw milk.

That, he says, is where regulations ought to begin.

He does not recommend banning raw milk cheeses, but does note that Reg.B.08.002.2 (1) of the Food and Drug Regulations makes it illegal to sell raw milk anywhere in Canada.

The number of people making raw milk cheese has been increasing in Ontario as dairy farmers set up cheese-making facilities on their farms.

A number of them are immigrants from the Netherlands and Switzerland who apply recipes they learned in Europe, such as making Gouda cheeses.

So far there have been no outbreaks of food-borne illnesses in Ontario arising from these on-farm raw-milk cheese factories.

But, as Doering writes, there is always a risk that some poop will get into the milk.