Call for more evidence on unpasteurised cheese safety

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Milk, Cheese, Pasteurization

Food experts have called for more evidence before they can consider revising the advice they offer on the safety of unpasteurised or raw milk cheese.

Following a recent presentation to the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) on the results of a project into the survival of Mycobaterium bovis (M.bovis) in unpasteurised Cheddar and Caerphilly undertaken by researchers at Queen's University Belfast, members of the committee said more information was required before they could consider making any changes.

Based on ACMSF risk assessments, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) currently advises vulnerable groups such as the young, sick, elderly and pregnant women to avoid consuming unpasteurised dairy products.

Pasteurisation of milk at 72°C for 15 seconds kills M.bovis and other pathogens, such as salmonella and E.coli, provided it is properly carried out.

Although unpasteurised cheese must be made from milk from herds that are shown to be free from infection, there is some evidence that the cheesemaking process for unpasteurised cheeses kills off M.bovis: a potentially dangerous bacterium associated with tuberculosis in cattle, which is on the rise across the UK cattle herd. In light of this rise, the FSA had called on the ACMSF to review its advice on risk associated with the consumption of unpasteurised milk and cheese.

Recent calls by Dairy UK which represents the UK's milk supply chain for a complete ban on the sale of unpasteurised milk have raised fears among specialist cheesemakers that the safety of unpasteurised cheese would be next to be called into question, even though Dairy UK is not calling for a ban on the sale of unpasteurised cheese.

However, the results of the Queen's University studies were felt by ACMSF to be inconclusive, which has disappointed producers of unpasteurised cheese. They had hoped the body would support their argument for the safety of their product.

ACMSF chair Professor Sarah O'Brien said: "The risk has changed but from what to what is difficult to assess."

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