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FDA and Health Canada assess risk of listeria in soft cheese

By Joe Whitworth , 11-Feb-2013
Last updated on 11-Feb-2013 at 15:19 GMT

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is seeking comments on a draft risk assessment looking at reducing the risk of listeria from soft-ripened cheese.

In a joint draft quantitative assessment (QRA) with Health Canada, the agencies propose changes and intervention strategies aimed at reducing the pathogen in cheese.

The FDA and Health Canada found that the risk of listeriosis from soft-ripened cheeses made with raw milk is estimated to be 50 to 160 times higher than that from soft-ripened cheese made with pasteurized milk.

“This finding is consistent with the fact that consuming raw milk and raw milk products generally poses a higher risk from pathogens than do pasteurized milk and its products,” said the notice published in the Federal Register.

Reevaluation use

FDA intends to use the assessment, which was limited to one pathogen in one type of cheese (camembert), in its reevaluation of the existing 60-day aging requirements for cheeses made with raw milk.

The purpose is to evaluate the effect of factors such as microbiological status of milk, impact of cheese manufacturing steps, and conditions during distribution and storage on the risk of invasive listeriosis to the consumer in the US or Canada.

The draft QRA focuses on the sources of L. monocytogenes contamination, the effects of individual manufacturing and/or processing steps, and the effectiveness of intervention strategies on the levels of the pathogen in the product as consumed and the associated risk of invasive listeriosis.

Reduce or prevent

It aims to provide risk managers with a decision-support tool to evaluate the effectiveness of current and future interventions to reduce or prevent listeriosis from consumption of soft-ripened cheeses.

“The draft QRA also may be used to target risk communication messages, identify and prioritize research needs, and provide a framework for coordinating efforts with stakeholders,” said the authors of the notice.

The agencies are seeking comments to improve the approach used, the assumptions made, modeling techniques, data used and the clarity and transparency of the draft quantitative risk assessment documentation.

The United States and Canada have experienced sporadic illnesses and outbreaks of listeriosis associated with the consumption of soft cheese. Both FDA and Health Canada continue to evaluate the safety of soft cheese, particularly soft cheese made from unpasteurized milk.”

Comments on the draft risk assessment must be received by 29 April 2013.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, Loch Arthur Creamery is recalling cheese after listeria was found in some batches of its Criffel product after sampling tests from Dumfries and Galloway Council.

The recall for the full fat semi-soft unpasteurized cheese affects production dates of 28 November 2012 and 17, 19 and 21 December.