Fungus In Chobani Greek Yogurt Outbreak A Threat To Consumers
    By News Staff | July 8th 2014 08:51 AM | 1 comment | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    In September of 2013, customers of Chobani brand Greek yogurt complained of gastrointestinal problems after consuming products manufactured in the company's Idaho plant. The company issued a recall and claimed that the fungal contaminant Murcor circinelloides was only a potential danger to immunocompromised individuals.

    Yet complaints of severe GI discomfort continued from otherwise healthy customers and researchers began to question the fungus and its ability to cause harm in healthy humans.  Resulting research has found that this fungus is not harmless after all, but a strain with the ability to cause disease. 

    In the study, the researchers isolated a strain of the fungus from a yogurt container that was subject to recall. Using a technique known as multi-locus sequence typing (MLST), they identified the strain as Mucor circinelloides f. circinelloides (Mcc). Unlike other strains of the fungus, that particular subspecies is commonly associated with human infections.

    Mucho is sexually compatible with an M. circinelloides f. circinelloides isolate. Zygospore formation between Mucho and (−) NRRL3614 was observed, whereas Mucho did not mate with (+) NRRL3615 (data not shown). The results indicate that Mucho is the (+) mating type. Its mating ability with the other M. circinelloides f. circinelloides isolate also supports that Mucho is M. circinelloides f. circinelloides. Scale is 100 µm. Credit: 

    Whole-genome sequence analysis of the yogurt isolate confirmed it as being closely related to Mcc and also revealed the possibility that this fungus could produce harmful metabolites that were previously unknown in this species.

    The researchers then tested the strain on mice, where the fungus showed an ability to cause lethal infections when the fungal spores were injected into the bloodstream as well as to survive passage through the GI tract when the spores were ingested orally. 

    Maybe accept science more and you will put people at risk less. Image link: Dr. Piper Klemm

    "When people think about food-borne pathogens, 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," says co-author Soo Chan Lee of Duke University.

    Citation: Soo Chan Lee, R. Blake Billmyre, Alicia Li, Sandra Carson, Sean M. Sykes, Eun Young Huh, Piotr Mieczkowski, Dennis C. Ko, Christina A. Cuomo, and Joseph Heitman , 'Analysis of a Food-Borne Fungal Pathogen Outbreak: Virulence and Genome of a Mucor circinelloides Isolate from Yogurt', mBio 5:4 July/August 2014; doi:10.1128/mBio.01390-1. Source: American Society for Microbiology


    Chonabi's public relations agency, Weber Shandwick, sent the following via email:

    Please find below a statement attributable to Chobani. I would appreciate if you could please update the story on your website to include this. Thank you.

    “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 foodborne pathogens. Chobani stands by these findings, which are consistent with regulatory agency findings and the FDA’s Class II classification of the recall on October 30th 2013,” said Dr. Alejandro Mazzotta, Chobani Vice President of Global Quality, Food Safety, and Regulatory Affairs.


    Dr. Mazzotta continued, “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. 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. Through our partnership with Cornell University and other leading institutions, we constantly look for ways to further promote quality and safety in the dairy industry.”


    To further ensure the continued safety and quality of its products, since its voluntary recall in September 2013, 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. 


    Additionally, Chobani has significantly invested in experienced and accomplished people. In October of last year, it named Dr. Alejandro Mazzotta, one of the industry’s leading experts in food safety with more than two decades of experience, as Vice President of Global Quality, Food Safety and Regulatory Affairs. Last November, it named Andreas Sokollek, who brings more than 24 years of operations excellence and project management experience, as Senior Vice President of Supply Chain and Operations, overseeing all new product launches, production planning and materials management initiatives. This year, Dr. Jarret Stopforth joined Chobani as Director of Manufacturing Quality to lead manufacturing food safety and quality, and Dr. Candace Jacobs, Sr. Manager, Supplier Quality is now leading our supplier quality programs. Industry veterans Michele Gorman, Sr. Manager of Microbiology and Daniel Gorman, Sr. Manager of Quality and Food Safety Systems, have also joined Chobani to enhance its food safety and quality processes and systems.


    “Nothing is more important to us than the quality of our products and the trust of our fans. Our focus continues to be on food safety, quality, production and distribution to ensure that we are meeting our most important commitment: delivering perfect cups of yogurt, every time. Our plants continue to meet all food safety standards and are making very high quality yogurt using only natural ingredients and we're very proud of our craft," Dr. Mazzotta said.

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