The Hazards of Cheese Waxing

Cheese waxing is a subject that I frequently see come up on the internet.  This is a subject that causes me real concern.  I understand the desire to wax your own cheese for long-term storage.  However, I have some real concerns about it.  The following statement from Dr. Nummer of Utah State University explains the problem:

“From time to time, dubious methods arise for preparing and storing various food items.  Current information being circulated about the merits of dipping cheese in wax and placing it in storage for many years can be placed in this category.  Consider the science.

Waxing cheese is a method to minimize mold growth on the surface of cheese.  It cannot prevent growth or survival of many illness-causing bacteria.  In fact, it may promote anaerobic (absence of oxygen) bacteria growth, such as botulism.  The practice of waxing cheese for storage is considered extremely unsafe.

Before the days of refrigeration, cheese was dryer and fermented to a lower pH (higher acid).  These types of cheeses were traditionally stored at room temperature with wax covers.  The very low pH and fermentation byproducts could inhibit foodborne illness bacteria.  An example is parmesan-style cheese.  Acid, dryness, and fermentation byproducts make this cheese storable at room temperature.

Today, many cheeses are made strictly for storage under refrigeration.  These cheeses may not have a low pH and other factors created in the manufacturing process to prevent illness-causing bacteria growth because the manufacturer knows the cheeses will be kept refrigerated.  If someone waxes this cheese and places it in food storage, there is no science indicating any level of safety.  In fact, there is evidence of the opposite.  Placing cheese meant for refrigeration at room temperature is a significant risk and hazard for foodborne illness.”

Brian A Nummer, Ph.D
Extension Food Safety Specialist
Director Food Safety Specialist
Utah State University

Cheese waxing is a practice that has a long history of use.  Any cheeses you obtain that are waxed at the factory and do not require refrigeration should be fine for storage.  As you read in the letter about some cheeses are fine to wax, others can kill you.  I don’t know how to tell the difference and all the articles on the internet say about that is to use dry cheese.

I don’t want to risk the lives of my family or myself to save a few dollars.  If you want cheese you can trust, buy some of the waxed cheese you can find in a good deli or Italian grocery

Howard

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3 Responses to The Hazards of Cheese Waxing

  1. Dan says:

    Very timely article for me. We must be reading the same information. I have had some doubts about the DIY information that I’ve read, but hadn’t thought about the issues Dr. Nummer discussed.
    There is always so much more than what meets the eye. When a new or old technique/skill is introduced, especially if related to food or drinking water, I like to continue the research to ensure that the information is correct and accepted by people or entities who have the background, training, and knowledge in that skill set. Your article is a perfect example. Another example is the many methods of making water safe to drink. there is some misinformation about what each method is actually capable of accomplishing.
    Thanks

  2. Stephanie Dayle says:

    Very well done. Thank you for throwing some science out there when people only want heat that they can do it – not the actual potential consequences of it. Will PIN this and try my best to spread it around some more. I wish some of the online “Pros” would read this and take it into consideration.

  3. KE4SKY says:

    This is good information. More info at the following link:

    http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/food/food_safety/handling/hgic3506.html

    When I was in Italy earlier this year I spent six weeks accompanying WWII veterans celebrating Liberation Day (April 25th) then following the route of the US 5th Army through Tuscany and the Piedmonte. Our hosts were members of the Alpini Regiment of the Italian Army and the Carabinieri, many of whom were recently returned from Afghanistan where they have been supporting IED removal and civil affairs functions.

    Cheese has traditionally been an important part of Italian army field rations since Roman times. The hard, dry cheeses traditional this region keep well without refrigeration if protected in breathable cloth bags and have excellent food value. Follow the advice in the above link regarding mold. If there is any, cut it off, avoiding contact of your knife with any mold, to save the remaining cheese. In bocca al lupo!

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