Cheese processors in the UK have been handed tougher guidance on hygiene, following EU claims that the country's food safety authority was not doing enough to protect consumers.
The guidance, issued by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) and developed with industry body Dairy UK, details 'dos and don'ts' for processors regarding cheese recovery. EU officials threatened court action against the UK last autumn, alleging the FSA had not sufficiently tackled safety and hygiene lapses in cheese production at Bowland Dairies in northern England. Commission inspectors descended on the UK to inspect dairy premises last November. Two problems initially found at Bowland, relating to recovery of mouldy cheese and floor sweepings, are dealt with in-depth in the new FSA guidance.
It says use of floor sweepings in the food chain "is wholly unacceptable, regardless of any further sorting or processing to which the sweepings may be subjected". On mould, the document says processors should "normally" dispose of cheese contaminated with mould that is neither an essential part of the production process or final product. This is particularly important for soft cheese, the guidance says. It adds that cheese offcuts containing black mould, in particular, should be thrown out because this may indicate a risk of aflatoxins. Where hard cheese is recovered, the FSA has issued specific guidance on removing mould - including all contaminated areas and up to 2cm of uncontaminated cheese in the worst cases.
The guidance is available from the FSA website. Both the FSA and Dairy UK have repeatedly denied EU accusations of wrongdoing in relation to hygiene controls. Their efforts to tighten controls appear to have successfully headed off legal action from the European Commission.
Jim Begg, Dairy UK director general, told DairyReporter.com earlier this year: "We have responded positively to the Commission. All practices recommended have been put in place."