One strain can cause infections in healthy people, researcher says; company disputes finding
TUESDAY, July 8, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A fungus that triggered a yogurt recall last year poses a health risk to all consumers, according to a new study.
In September 2013, there were reports of illness among people who ate Chobani brand Greek yogurt, and the company issued a recall. The yogurt was found to be contaminated with a fungus called Mucor circinelloides.
"When people think about food-borne pathogens [germs], normally they list bacteria, viruses, and maybe parasites. Fungal pathogens are not considered as food-borne pathogens," Soo Chan Lee, of Duke University, said in a news release from the American Society for Microbiology.
"However, this incidence indicates that we need to pay more attention to fungi. Fungal pathogens can threaten our health systems as food-borne pathogens," Lee added.
At the time, it was believed that the fungus was only a health threat to people with weakened immune systems. However, there were many complaints about gastrointestinal illness from otherwise healthy people, prompting researchers to take a closer look at the fungus in the yogurt.
The investigators found that the strain of M. circinelloides that caused the outbreak of illness was one commonly associated with infections in people. The researchers tested the strain on mice and found that it could cause deadly infections in the rodents.
The findings were recently published in the online journal mBio.
Chobani disputed the study's claims, and said company tests found no presence of "pathogens," or germs.
"Chobani conducted an aggressive, statistically significant series of tests of the products voluntarily recalled in September 2013 with third-party experts confirming the absence of food-borne pathogens. Chobani stands by these findings, which are consistent with regulatory agency findings and the FDA's [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] Class II classification of the recall on October 30, 2013," Dr. Alejandro Mazzotta, Chobani vice president of Global Quality, Food Safety, and Regulatory Affairs, said in a news release.
"In regards to this specific study, we were just made aware of it and want to take more time to review its methodology and assertions," Mazzotta added. "To our knowledge, there is no evidence, including the assertions presented in this publication, that the strain in the recalled products causes illness in consumers when ingested. Food quality and safety has always been and always will be paramount to Chobani."
Since the 2013 recall, Chobani has "implemented additional state-of-the-art equipment for microbiological testing, and the company routinely conducts more than 500 microbiological tests daily from crafting and finished product samples, in excess of the regulatory requirements," he said.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about food-borne illness (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/foodborneillness.html ).
SOURCES: American Society for Microbiology, news release, July 8, 2014; Chobani, news release, July 8, 2014