Smokehouse and Smoking Guidelines
for Cheese and Cheese Products
Smoking gives cheese a characteristic taste and look. To achieve
this, processors use a smoker to create smoke outside the smokehouse
and direct it inside the smokehouse, where it passes over the cheese.
Under Ontario's Milk Act, smoking cheese is considered
to be a form of processing a milk product.
As a cheese maker, you should be aware of the food safety risks
associated with the smoking process. These include:
- contaminating the cheese with cancer-causing substances if
the cheese comes in direct contact with heavy smoke
- contaminating the cheese with harmful bacteria if you do not
follow good manufacturing practices or the smokehouse is not made
of materials that can be properly cleaned and sanitized.
Smokehouse/Smoking Requirements for Cheese and Cheese Products
- Locate the smoker/smokehouse inside a dairy plant licensed
under the Milk Act.
Dairy products should never be handled or processed in a non-licensed
facility because they could become contaminated through:
It is not acceptable to smoke cheese in a smokehouse located
within a provincially licensed or federally registered meat plant.
- incompatible activities such as processing meat, processing
other foods, or smoking meat products
- inadequate sanitation
- improper handling procedures that contaminate the product
with dust, foreign materials or microorganisms.
- Avoid incompatible activities that may contaminate the dairy
product. For example, don't locate the smoker/smokehouse within
the following areas:
The smoker/smokehouse needs to be located in a finished product
area. It needs to be physically separated from incompatible products
and activities or separated in some other effective way to prevent
- milk-receiving bays
- other areas where raw milk is handled
- the "make room" of a cheese processing plant.
- Enclose the smoker/smokehouse in a separate compartment or room.
Because the smoking process creates strong odours, the smoker/smokehouse
should be enclosed to stop the odours from affecting the quality
of products in other areas of the dairy plant.
The inside of the compartment/room needs to be designed to:
If dust, dirt or condensation build up, they can contaminate the
product. The smoker/smokehouse needs to be designed, built, finished
and maintained in a way that prevents this.
- minimize the risk of food contamination
- make it easy to keep the smoking process sanitary
- be easy to clean effectively.
- Make sure all the surfaces and racks in the smoker/smokehouse
are made from materials that are:
How effectively you can clean your smoker/smokehouse depends on
the design. Sharp corners and angles are difficult to clean. Because
racks directly touch the cheese, they need be made of stainless
steel or corrosion-resistant material. You need to be able to
keep the racks sanitary so there are no microorganisms on them
that could contaminate the cheese.
- Make sure the smoker/smokehouse has enough ventilation to exhaust
You need to be able to exhaust the smoke so that airborne contamination
such as steam, condensation, dust or odours don't affect the quality
of products in other areas of the dairy processing facility.
- Make sure the exhaust duct is designed to stop rainwater or
pests from entering the smokehouse. When the duct is not being
used, it needs to be sealed (for example, with a damper or baffle).
Exhaust systems need to be easy to clean, and they need to be
- To create the smoke used in the smoker/smokehouse, choose combustible
materials that will not affect the safety of the cheese or cheese
You can use:
Make sure the material you use is certified as food grade. Store
it and handle it properly to minimize the risk of contaminating
- hardwood sawdust
- vapourized liquid smoke created from hardwood or hardwood
- Control the temperature of the smoke to protect the cheese from
polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
Small particles in smoke may carry PAHs. PAHs are a food safety
concern because many of them are known or suspected to cause cancer.
To reduce the risk of creating PAHs, keep the smoke temperatures
Temperature control is extremely critical for the cold smoking
process. Place the smoker outside the smokehouse, smoking chamber
or processing oven. To keep ignition temperatures below 350-375°C,
make sure the moisture content of the hardwood sawdust or chips
is at least 30%. Also, keep the smoke vapour below 29-32°C
to make sure that the cheese does not soften and lose shape or
start to oil off.¹
- Write down your processing procedures. For each batch of cheese
you process, record:
Keeping track of these things will help you ensure product consistency.
Update your procedures as required.
- The date
- The lot identifier
- The processing time
- The temperature
- The cooling time
- The type of combustible material you used.
- Make sure you have a written cleaning
and sanitation program.
Since the smoking process is performed on finished cheese product,
use cleaning chemicals that can remove smoke residues without
leaving chemical residues that could contaminate the next lot
of cheese. Generating smoke creates residues that are difficult
to clean using typical dairy detergents. However, the detergents
you use should still be approved for use in a food plant.
Carefully evaluate your cleaning and sanitation program to make
sure it is effective.
All plant employees should be trained to make sure they understand
the importance of their role in the smokehouse and how it can affect
the safety of the food they are preparing and the health and safety
of people who eat it.
Accessing Smoking Services from a Licensed Dairy Plant
If you do not have your own smokehouse, you need to make sure
that the smokehouse that handles your cheese meets the following
- It is located in a dairy plant licensed under the Milk
- It meets the conditions outlined in this guideline. Examine
the facility's written program to verify that:
- the requirements for smoking and smokehouses are met
- records are kept
- the right corrective steps are taken if deviations occur.
- It has a written training program for employees that includes
appropriate training in personal hygiene and hygienic handling
of food. The program is enforced, and it is updated at appropriate
intervals. The training should reflect how complex the manufacturing
process is and how complex employees' jobs are.
You also need to make sure that:
- Both your plant and the smokehouse operator have documented
procedures and records demonstrating that both facilities have
control of the chain
of custody. As the cheese manufacturer or the owner, you need
to have a written process control procedure to make sure that
you can track each lot of cheese for traceability.
- The vehicles used to transport the cheese to and from the off-site
smoking facility are designed, built, maintained, cleaned and
used in a way that prevents food contamination.
- The cold storage facilities where your cheese is kept are designed,
built, maintained, cleaned and used in a way that prevents food
- Programs to check the effectiveness of cleaning and sanitizing
are documented and implemented.
- Finished product that needs to be kept at a specific temperature
is transported and stored at that temperature.
- Records are kept that demonstrate the cheese has been transported
and stored at the right temperature for that type of cheese.
- You have good
microbiological control over your products. It is your responsibility
to demonstrate that the safety of the product has been maintained.
- Wendorff, W.L. Smoked Cheese, A comprehensive guide for cheesemakers.
Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.
For more information:
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