SafeFood© and Bathtub Cheese
Haven’t seen this at the store? Well, I hope you don’t! It is an unusual (and illegal way) to manufacture a specialty soft cheese called Queso Fresco, which is very popular among Hispanic communities and others. The bathtub provides a place for the milk, often unpasteurized, to culture at room temperature for about 15 days until it becomes a soft cheese. Health inspectors throughout the country have noted concerns with unlicensed home manufacturing of this product.
At a recent meeting for retail food inspectors, the story was told of a major case in which the product made by an unlicensed home manufacturer was sold to a retail restaurant. The investigation came about because of a spike in confirmed cases of Salmonella Newport (over 100 confirmed cases in two years with estimates of over 2000 actual cases, just in one county). Upon investigation, it was found that a supplier known as Mr. Cheese was producing this product at home using raw milk illegally obtained from a local dairy’s secondary milking of cows, milk never intended for human consumption, by the way. So, in a nutshell, the entrepreneurial Mr. Cheese was producing the food in an un-inspected and less than sanitary environment using unpasteurized milk of questionable integrity.
While I am all for entrepreneurialism (Mr. Cheese was making 15 blocks per week at $15 per block), I think most of us expect that any food sold in the market is safe. To make sure that happens, there are regulations and inspections that protect the workers in the workplace and result in a safe product for consumers. In home based businesses, there are distractions with children, pets, household items, etc. etc. etc. that could comprise the safety of food being made for sale. So be assured, the regulations do not allow “bathtub cheese”, aka Queso Fresco. It is possible to purchase this food at the retail level, a product that has been made in a licensed and inspected facility. If you haven’t tried it, do so, it is easy to see why it is so popular.