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Contaminated Cheeses: We Need to Start Asking the Right Questions


The spectrum of Listeria monocytogenes, one of the most dangerous food contaminants, is back..


The French health authorities are currently recalling a number of products made by the Fromagerie de Jussac, mostly from French supermarket chains, because they may have been contaminated by Listeria monocytogenes.


Among the many possible food contaminations, Listeria is certainly one of the most dangerous. Many people fell sick in Austria between 2009 and 2010 after eating Quargel, an acidic fresh cheese made by Prolactal, contaminated with the bacteria. Seven of them died. So news of this new contamination, which was initially communicated by the French Agriculture Ministry's alert and then the European alert system, is definitely unwelcome. And while it's certainly good that the alarm system works in Europe, it is also worth reflecting a bit further. For example, asking if it makes sense for a medium-small dairy in the Auvergne (3 million liters of milk processed a year) to export cheeses to 12 other countries, including Italy. And, what's more, perfectly ordinary, industrial, fresh cheeses, hardly unique specialties. It's the market, sure: supply and demand, commercial aggressiveness, marketing, etc., etc., those things we know all about.


But is it the market that should dominate our societies or in the end should society regulate the market? And does it make sense for consumers in Italy, Austria, Germany and Spain, countries with a rich cheese-making tradition, to buy this banal imported cheese instead of looking for a similar local one, perhaps made from raw milk? Oh yes, let's not forget: The Fromagerie de Jussac uses only pasteurized milk, as does Prolactal. The deadly mascarpone that claimed so many victims in Italy a few years ago was also made from pasteurized milk. It is a fact worth remembering, because none of the reports on this latest contamination mention it. I wonder why?


Piero Sardo

Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity


First published: La Stampa, January 13 2013


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