July 8, 2014 — A fungus that was discovered last year in Chobani Greek yogurt poses a health risk to all consumers, and it has been linked to over 300 cases of food poisoning, according to a study published in mBio, the journal of the American Society for Microbiology.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received over 300 reports from individuals who consumed yogurt products and experienced gastrointestinal discomfort, including nausea, cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea, sometimes for days. An investigation found that the yogurt was contaminated with Mucor circinelloides.
Chobani recalled the yogurt in September 2013. All of the products were manufactured at a facility in Twin Falls, Idaho, labeled with “best by” dates between September 11 and October 7, 2013. Chobani claimed that the fungus, Mucor circinelloides, was only a risk to people with weakened immune systems.
However, this statement was contradicted by a large number of reports of food poisoning from otherwise healthy people. When the researchers investigated, they found that the strain of M. circinelloides was one that is commonly associated with infections in people.
They tested the strain in mice and found that it could cause infection when the spores were injected into the bloodstream. The spores could also survive in the gastrointestinal tract when ingested orally.
Even so, the researchers said it was unclear whether Mucor infection was directly responsible for illness reported in the outbreak. Another explanation is that the fungus might have produced toxic metabolites. After sequencing the genome of the fungus, they found dozens of genes that could potentially be involved in toxin production.
Soo Chan Lee, of Duke University, said in a news release from the American Society for Microbiology:
“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. However, this incidence indicates that we need to pay more attention to fungi. Fungal pathogens can threaten our health systems as food-borne pathogens.”
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