If you tried to order cheese for Christmas from Fair Oaks Dairy in Jasper County, fast becoming a well-known cheese producer, you probably discovered that they weren't shipping cheese this holiday season. Unfortunately, they discovered problems with a couple of products. According to sources, they voluntarily recalled their cheese products, and announced they would not ship cheese products for days.
Denise Derrer, communications director of the Indiana State Board of Animal Health, says what Fair Oaks did was a voluntary move. BOAH is responsible for inspecting cheese making facilities under an agreement with FDA. BOAH carries out the federal regulations on their behalf.
However, forcing a recall is a long, involved process, Derrer notes. Typically, if a producer with a problem will not voluntarily recall product, Derrer takes another course of action. She has the authority to issue consumer advisories in print, and has done so in the past, warning of the dangers of consuming particular products.
That was not necessary in this case, she notes. Fair Oaks staff actually alerted BOAH that they had detected a problem after receiving results from independent labs where they test their products before BOAH had received results from its own lab. So Fair Oaks took the action on its own, and is in the process of rectifying the problem.
Tracing problems in a product like cheese can be difficult, Derrer notes. Since most plants bring in at least some purchased ingredients, it's possible that the contamination came in with a purchased product. Or it's possible that it happened during processing at the plant. The main remedy is to completely clean the plant thoroughly and start production again, she notes.
What complicates the process in cheese is that many cheeses are aged, from a year to as long as seven years. If the contamination occurred when the product before the product was placed in the aging room and this happened a long time ago, it may be difficult to track.The aging process when done correctly actually discourages problems with bacteria in cheese. Part of the process is producing a drier cheese. The longer a cheese ages, the sharper (and drier) it usually becomes. The process works because the cheese becomes dry that it no longer supports growth of organisms when carried out correctly.