We are a cheese plant that processes a variety of cheeses. Mainly blue cheese and we also process some block and ready to eat curd.
I am new to cheese and I am not understand how specification are determined. We currently have a spec of all product to be <100 coliform and <10 for e.coil and negative for Listeria. But I am not sure how this is determined. Due to ready to eat product going out of the door in just a few days could a coliform count of <500 be consider with <10 e.coli or would that be against the rules. I have been trying to find some stuff on the FDA and USDA website and I have not found anything. I have read a couple if articles where coliform in cheese is not a unusual in cheddar. And most recalls are due to e.coli and listeria and I have never read anything about a recall on high coliform.
Does anyone have any information or have some knowledge on cheese and specification that they can point me too.
thanks for the help,
Frankly, you need the help of a (FS-knowledgeable) microbiologist.
I'm not familiar with cheese/FDA requirements but any micro.spec (eg species/groups) is dividable into safety and non-safety related items. Lot rejections are usually either due to a positive detection of a zero tolerant pathogen or a value for any other micro.species/group greater than the relevant specification.
One micro. result/one characteristic is IMO inadequate to characterise a particular lot unless involving a positive result for a zero tolerant microbial pathogen, eg Salmonella, L.monocytogenes. Nonetheless, single samples are sometimes used (see next para.).
Aceptance/rejection for a particular lot is dependent on the specific official/contractual requirements. Evaluation is often based on (nmMc) data sets for 5 samples but exceptions may exist, eg see the attached file in previous post, pg5.
The Coliform group is considered non-safety related but, depending on the product / process, the level may be a general hygiene indicator. Generic (ie non-pathogenic) E.coli species are considered indicative of fecal contamination so significant levels are a more specific indicator of unsatisfactory hygienic condition than Coliform. Note that the cheese specs in attached file in previous post do not mention Coliform but include E.coli.
Offhand a consistent level for finished product/Coliform of 500cfu/gm for a process including a thermal pasteurization stage (does it ??) sounds too high and indicates post-process contamination but you need more data to make any confident predictions.