July 8, 2014 — A strain of mold found in Chobani Greek yogurt that was recalled last year poses health risks for all consumers who ate it, not just individuals with weak immune systems, according to a study published in mBio by the American Society for Microbiology.
The investigation opened after researchers noticed a large number of reports of gastrointestinal illness among otherwise healthy individuals. Over 300 people reported symptoms including nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea, in some cases lasting days.
The outbreak was linked to Mucor circinelloides, a type of fungus. In September 2013, Chobani recalled yogurt with a “best by” date between September 11 and October 7, 2013. All of the yogurt was produced at one facility in Twin Falls, Idaho.
Although Chobani said the fungus was only a risk to immunocompromised individuals, the researchers disagree. The strain is commonly associated with infections in people. When researchers tested it in mice, they found that injections of spores could cause bloodstream infections. When the spores were ingested orally, they could survive in the gastrointestinal system.
Researchers were uncertain whether the fungus directly caused illness or if it produced toxins. When they sequenced the genome of the fungus, they found dozens of genes predicted to be involved in the production of secondary metabolites, which suggests that it might produce harmful toxins.
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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