Raw milk products could finally enter the Australia and New Zealand market if the region’s food standards body gives a positive decision this March.
Lorraine Belanger, a spokesperson for Food Standards Australia and New Zealand told FoodNavigator-Asia that the use of raw milk in products was first assessed in August last year under a proposal.
“The assessment of these products has looked at what production and processing measures and product characteristics are needed to provide a high level of safety for consumers,” she said.
It resulted in recommendations for the use of raw milk in non-pasteurised, hard to very hard cooked curd cheeses, which would involve changes to the dairy standards in the Food Standards Code (FSC), she added.
Belanger pointed out that “the modifications to the code relate to processing requirements for cheese production that state storage time and moisture content for these cheeses to ensure product safety.”
According to Belanger, FSANZ will now look at permissions for other raw milk cheese products through an assessment that will use the technical work done in August.
FSANZ looks to approve more raw milk products
“Other raw milk cheese products are being considered separately because a wider range of processing measures and product characteristics need to be considered,” she added.
Hard cheeses belong to Category 1 products under the code, whose low moisture content and long maturation make them as safe as pasteurised cheeses, according to FSANZ.
However, the assessment at that time did not approve the use of raw milk for Category 2 and Category 3 products in Australia. FSANZ is now reviewing if the use of raw milk products in Category 2 products could also be allowed.
Category 2 products include cheese products that may allow the survival, but not growth, of pathogens and could be made to adhere to food safety standards by a combination of control measures and verification activities, according to FSANZ.
Simon Tucker, general manager, policy and advocacy at Dairy NZ, told FoodNavigator-Asia that the approval of raw milk for cheese products is an interesting issue for the country’s dairy sector.
“If FSANZ goes ahead with this there might very well be new market opportunities for NZ dairy businesses, although I would suspect they would be pretty niche opportunities,” he said.
Raw goat’s milk could be barred
FSANZ’s Belanger disclosed that the assessment work for August 2011 proposal concluded that raw drinking milk presents too high a risk to consider any permission in the Code.
As such, Belanger remarked, FSANZ wants to review “an exemption in the code that allows raw goat milk for drinking.”
Currently four states permit the production of raw goat milk for sale for human consumption including Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia.
According to Belanger, under the August proposal, the FSANZ completed a microbiological risk assessment for consumption of raw goat milk in Australia and considered existing Australian raw goat milk regulations.
“For raw drinking milk, even extremely good hygiene procedures won’t ensure dangerous pathogens aren’t present,” she said, pointing out that complications from bacteria that can contaminate these products can be extremely severe.
“People with increased vulnerability to diseases caused by these bacteria include young children, elderly people, people with compromised immune systems and pregnant women and their foetuses,” she said.