The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a clarification of its position on artisanal cheesemakers’ use of wood shelving, which can aid in aging cheese by controlling moisture to form rinds and hosting microbes that add character and flavor. FDA’s Constituent Update called reports that the agency established a new rule banning wood shelving “not accurate,” instead noting that its regulations merely require that “utensils and other surfaces that contact food must be ‘adequately cleanable’ and ‘properly maintained.’” The confusion comes from a letter sent by FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets indicating that wooden surfaces could not be adequately cleaned, thus violating the standards of the Food Safety Modernization Act. The Constituent Update noted that the letter was intended as a background of wood shelving use for aging cheeses and an analysis of relevant scientific publications, and upon later inspection FDA recognized that “the language used in this communication may have appeared more definitive than it
should have, in light of the agency’s actual practices on this issue.”