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60-Day Aging Requirement Does Not Ensure Safety of Surface-Mold-Ripened Soft Cheeses Manufactured from Raw or Pasteurized Milk When Listeria monocytogenes Is Introduced as a Postprocessing Contaminant

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Because of renewed interest in specialty cheeses, artisan and farmstead producers are manufacturing surface-mold-ripened soft cheeses from raw milk, using the 60-day holding standard (21 CFR 133.182) to achieve safety. This study compared the growth potential of Listeria monocytogenes on cheeses manufactured from raw or pasteurized milk and held for >60 days at 4°C. Final cheeses were within federal standards of identity for soft ripened cheese, with low moisture targets to facilitate the holding period. Wheels were surface inoculated with a five-strain cocktail of L. monocytogenes at approximately 0.2 CFU/cm2 (low level) or 2 CFU/cm2 (high level), ripened, wrapped, and held at 4°C. Listeria populations began to increase by day 28 for all treatments after initial population declines. From the low initial inoculation level, populations in raw and pasteurized milk cheese reached maximums of 2.96 ± 2.79 and 2.33 ± 2.10 log CFU/g, respectively, after 60 days of holding. Similar growth was observed in cheese inoculated at high levels, where populations reached 4.55 ± 4.33 and 5.29 ± 5.11 log CFU/g for raw and pasteurized milk cheeses, respectively. No significant differences (P < 0.05) were observed in pH development, growth rate, or population levels between cheeses made from the different milk types. Independent of the milk type, cheeses held for 60 days supported growth from very low initial levels of L. monocytogenes introduced as a postprocess contaminant. The safety of cheeses of this type must be achieved through control strategies other than aging, and thus revision of current federal regulations is warranted.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences, University of Vermont, Bington, Vermont 05405, USA

Publication date: 2008-08-01

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