Scientists: Recalled Moldy Exploding Chobani Yogurts Could Make Consumers Sick

chobani_blorpHey, remember when Chobani recalled a wide variety of yogurts in the fall of 2013 because fungal contamination made them taste terrible and occasionally explode? About that: a new study published today in a journal of the American Society for Microbiology indicates that the fungus found in contaminated yogurt cups was a strain that can make animals, including humans, sick when it’s eaten.

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

“While unlikely to have ill health effects upon consumption, nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our consumers…” Chobani said in a statement at the time. An expert from Cornell University explained at the time that the pathogen rarely makes people sick; when it does, it’s been inhaled, not consumed with food. That’s what we and other news outlets reported at the time. However, the researchers cultured more of the fungus taken from a contaminated yogurt cup and studied it in animals and insects. The species found in the sample is called M. circinelloides f. circinelloides, which has caused illness in humans before. They discovered that the pathogen survived the trip through the digestive systems of mice, which means that they could also survive the same trip through a human digestive system.

“Unlikely” does’t mean “there will be no ill health effects in anyone, ever,” but it’s also possible that some of the more than 400 reported illnesses were coincidental and not directly related to the yogurt. Chobani counters that there is no proof that any consumers became sick because of the yogurt. “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,” the company’s executive in charge of food safety told NBC in a statement.

Analysis of a Food-Borne Fungal Pathogen Outbreak: Virulence and Genome of a Mucor circinelloides Isolate from Yogurt [mBio]