A fungus strain responsible for an outbreak of contaminated Greek yoghurt last year has the ability to cause serious gastrointestinal (GI) problems, according to new research.
In September 2013, customers of “Chobani” brand Greek yoghurt complained of gastrointestinal (GI) problems after consuming products manufactured in the company’s Idaho plant in the US.
It was believed at the time that the fungal contaminant Murcor circinelloides was only a potential danger to immuno-compromised individuals.
However, as complaints of severe GI discomfort continued from healthy customers, researchers began to question the fungus and its ability to cause harm in healthy humans.
In the new study, researchers isolated a strain of the fungus from a yoghurt container.
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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.
“This fungus could produce harmful metabolites that were previously unknown in this species,” said senior study author Soo Chan Lee of Duke University.
The researchers then tested the strain on mice where the fungus showed an ability to cause lethal infections.
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,” Lee cautioned.
The research was published in the journal mBio.