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Mold behind 2013 yogurt recall may cause disease

A fungus extracted from tainted Chobani yogurt may pose a bigger threat to humans than initially presumed.

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Guest post by Nsikan Akpan

“Chobani: Mold in yogurt does not carry disease” rang a USA Today headline last September, after the Greek-yogurt maker discovered a normally benign fungus in a batch of their signature product. The yogurt made more than 200 people sick and forced a nationwide recall.

The fungus — Mucor circinelloides — is common among food products and is typically innocuous unless a person has a compromised immune system. But the proclamation that the strain found in Chobani yogurt did not cause disease may have been hasty. Certain subspecies of the fungus are more virulent in humans than others, which is the case for the Chobani-linked strain, researchers report July 8 in mBio.

Based on their genome sequencing analysis, the new strain — dubbed Mucho — may produce harmful toxins that have never been seen with M. circinelloides. Tests in mice also show that the Mucho fungus can  invade the animals’ gastrointestinal tracts and lead to death.

Editor's Note: Chobani responded on July 8, 2014, after this item was published online, with a statement from Alejandro Mazzotta, Chobani Vice President of Global Quality, Food Safety, and Regulatory Affairs. He said, "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."

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