When Chobani brand Greek yogurt was recalled in September 2013, 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 healthy people, prompting researchers to take a closer look at the fungus in the yogurt.
The yogurt was found to be contaminated with a fungus called Murcor circinelloides.
“Typically when people think about food-borne pathogens, they think about viruses or bacteria, they don’t think of fungi,” said Soo Chan Lee, a senior research associate at Duke who led the study. “Our research suggests it may be time to think about fungal pathogens and develop good regulations to test them in manufacturing facilities.”
The study, which appears July 8 in the journal mBio, indicates that the particular strain of fungus found in the Greek yogurt may pose a more serious threat to public health than previously thought, said Dr. Joseph Heitman, a senior author of the study and professor and chair of molecular genetics and microbiology at Duke’s School of Medicine.
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.”
Heitman’s laboratory tested 16 other samples of Chobani yogurt and did not find Mucor circinelloides in any of them. The researchers asked the FDA for more information on its analyses of the recalled product or access to the samples the agency had obtained, and the agency declined their requests.