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Research Finds Recalled Chobani Yogurt Contained Fungal Pathogen

Last fall, Chobani recalled a number of its yogurts for mold contamination that caused packages to bloat and sour before their expiration date. More than 200 people reported becoming ill with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea after eating the yogurt.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration identified Mucor circinelloides as the contaminant, but it was initially believed that this fungus would not cause the kind of illnesses described.

The company cited a statement by Randy Worobo, a professor of Food Science in Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, that stated: “Mucor circinelloides is a species of mold commonly associated with fruits, vegetables and dairy that has been reported to cause spoilage like swelling and bloating in yogurt. It is not considered a disease-causing foodborne microorganism.”

Research published today in mBio, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology, found otherwise.

Although researchers still can’t say that the fungus directly caused the reported illnesses, their study shows that M. circinelloides can spoil food products and cause gastrointestinal illness in consumers, posing a particular risk to immunocompromised patients.

“While information disseminated in the popular press would suggest this fungal contaminant poses little or no risk to consumers, our results show instead that it is capable of causing significant infections in animals,” the study reads.

The researchers obtained a plain Chobani yogurt that was within the manufacturer’s voluntary date recall range and also in the production lot subject to recall. The sample was provided by a couple in Corpus Christi, TX, who had both become sick after eating the yogurt.

The team isolated a Mucor circinelloides strain and subsequently identified the isolate as belonging to the M. circinelloides f. circinelloides subgroup, the most virulent subspecies which is also commonly associated with human infections.

Their tests also showed that the yogurt isolate was virulent in mice and wax moth larva. Another test found that Mucor can survive passage through the gastrointestinal tract of mice.

“Compared to other food-borne pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and parasites, less focus has been placed on the risk of fungal pathogens,” the study says. “M. circinelloides is a food-borne pathogen that can cause lethal mucormycosis and [we] suggest that caution should be exercised with respect to fungal pathogens in food, particularly for individuals who are immunocompromised.”

The company responded Monday with this statement:

“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 30, 2013,” said Alejandro Mazzotta, Chobani Vice President of Global Quality, Food Safety, and Regulatory Affairs.

“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,” he said.

The statement provided by Chobani also said that the company has added new equipment for microbiological testing and conducts more than 500 of these tests a day at different stages of production.

“Food quality and safety has always been and always will be paramount to Chobani,” Mazzotta said.

© Food Safety News
  • Heather Shakespeare

    How long from consumption to onset of symptoms? I had the symptoms mentioned 30 to 45 minutes after eating a 6 oz container of goat milk yogurt. I contacted the small farm that produced it and they said no one else had reported a problem. Is it possible for the fungus to contaminate the container before filling so that just one container is affected?

    • Joe Blow

      It is likely your symptoms are related to fungal infection. It could be you just aren’t used to drinking/eating goat milk yogurt.

      • Heather Shakespeare

        Actually I make smoothies daily using goat milk yogurt from the same small company. Even though I got sick after eating their yogurt I will continue to support them as I have no proof it was their yogurt which made me sick. The short time between consuming the yogurt and onset of symptoms leads me to believe the yogurt may have been the cause.

  • HydrogenBond

    Sounds like Chobani still needs to fix their science problem:

    http://cen.acs.org/articles/92/web/2014/06/Chobanis-Accidental-Culture-War.html

  • flame

    Chobani is not to be trusted.

  • christi

    Great…*us bought some last night. Ate one..tasted funny but I haven’t ever had it so I just thought that their yogurt tasted different. To top it all off I don’t have an immune system. To the trash it goes. Jeez.

    • Joseph Singer

      I spoke to my grocery store which said they received no recalls on this latest batch of yogurt. Be careful, but don’t jump to conclusions.

  • John

    I dropped Chobani a long time ago, so happy I did. I only buy FAGE now.

  • Jon

    Chobani tastes like crap too.

  • Connie Jacobs

    I am still suffering with gastro issue since I ate one of the recalled yogurts. I never had these problems before and within 12 hours of eating one of the recalled yogurts it started. Doctors cannot find medicine to help. Next may be biopsy.

    • Nicholas Bernstein

      I’d be interested to know what your symptoms are. My wife and I were also sickened last September. I felt better in a few days, but she’s had issues for the last year. We’ve been wondering if they are related.

  • DanBrown55

    Mucor circinelloides can produce 3-nitropropionic acid, a toxin that produces the symptoms described when ingested, and quite soon after ingestion. This toxin can also cause methemoglobinemia and brain damage in experimental animals. Were the samples ever tested by Chobani, Triology, USDA, FDA, Cornell or anybody for this well-known Muco toxin? The action of this toxin does not require infection of the person by the mold and can withstand heat treatment. Why has there been no discussion of this in the press? Was the medical community made aware of this possibility?

    I still eat Chobani yoghurt, it’s just too tasty to give up. But, wouldn’t it be best for everyone in the country, including both the food poisoning victims and Chobani itself, to find out what really happened here?