Debriefer: June 11, 2014

Fail to vote, listen to Olivia; cheese frightens FDA

| June 11, 2014
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VOTE. OR ELSE.

Last week's primary election saw some dismally low percentages of people making it out to the polls—the worst ever, according to some reports.

Well, it's a good thing Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada isn't in charge, because all you non-voters would have gone to jail!

OK, that's overstated. But Yamada, D-Davis, said in a recent interview that Americans might consider a compulsory-voting system similar to Australia's.

Her suggestion came in the context of a discussion where Yamada lamented Supreme Court campaign-finance rulings, and voter-suppression efforts. Yamada noted that one solution to voter apathy would be to penalize non-voters, though she didn't say what form the penalty would take. Australians can be fined for not voting in federal elections. Repeat offenders are forced to listen to Olivia Newton John records.

Yamada hasn't offered any legislation, so stop freaking out, we were just talking. She is terming-out of Sacramento this November. We'll be checking to see if she takes any fact-finding holiday trips to Australia. —Tom Gogola

CHEESE POLICE

For centuries, the process of making cheese has involved aging the wheels on wooden racks. But thanks to a ruling last week by the FDA, the process of aging on wood may soon be outlawed.

"This could potentially shift the entire industry, nationally," says Sheana Davis, owner of the Epicurean Connection cheese shop in Sonoma and producer of the city's annual cheese industry conference. Many local cheese makers, like Matos St. George, Vella Cheese Co. and Bellwether Farms use wood to age their cheese.

The FDA cited several companies after an inspection of upstate New York cheese production facilities, prompting a request for clarification from state officials, who had been allowing the process of aging cheese on wood, as had cheese-friendly states like Wisconsin and California. The response from the FDA cites a rule requiring that food-making equipment be able to be adequately cleaned, and "wooden shelves or boards cannot be adequately cleaned and sanitized," says the agency in a statement.

The government's primary concern is the bacteria listeria. On March 11, the FDA suspended production at Roos Foods, Inc. due to an outbreak stemming from the company's "Hispanic-style cheese products" that resulted in one death and at least eight infections.

Listeria is not the only microbe capable of growing on wooden cheese boards. In fact, many microbes that inhabit the cheese's resting place are essential to the unique flavor and texture of a given cheese.

"It's potentially pretty devastating to cheese makers," says Gordon Edgar, San Francisco author of Cheesemonger: Life on the Wedge. "This is a tradition that's been going on for, really, a thousand years." New regulation might force cheese makers to change their recipes, and it could prove too expensive for small businesses to buy new equipment.

The FDA was reportedly in the process of issuing an updated statement to its ruling Tuesday, but details were not available before deadline. Calls to the USDA were not returned by press time.—Nicolas Grizzle

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