Duke University researchers have reportedly identified a “highly pathogenic mold” in recalled yogurt samples, raising questions about the human health implications of fungal pathogens such as Mucor circinelloides. Soo Chan Lee, et al., “Analysis of a foodborne fungal pathogen outbreak: virulence and genome of a Mucor circinelloides isolate from yogurt,” mBio, July 2014.

After isolating the fungal strain from Chobani Greek yogurt voluntarily recalled in September 2013, the study’s authors apparently identified the pathogen as M. circinelloides f. circinelloides, a subspecies “commonly associated with human infection,” and noted that the yogurt isolate was virulent in both mouse and wax moth larva host systems. These isolates also survived transit through the GI tract in the mouse model, suggesting that “M. circinelloides can spoil food products and cause gastrointestinal illness in consumers and may pose a particular risk to immunocompromised patients.”

“Typically when people think about food-borne pathogens, they think about viruses or bacteria, they don’t think of fungi,” the lead author was quoted as saying. “Our research suggests it may be time to think about fungal pathogens and develop good regulations to test them in manufacturing facilities.” See Duke University Press Release, July 8, 2014.

Meanwhile, Chobani’s Vice President of Quality, Safety and Regulatory Affairs Alejandro Mazzotta told media sources that the Duke study was “highly irresponsible” and “sensationalist.” Highlighting a “lack of scientific rigor,” he noted that researchers injected fungal spores directly into the bloodstream of mice to obtain their results as opposed to focusing on oral ingestion. “We don’t know how long the yogurt had been there, opened, whether the tests were conducted after the expiration date, what else it had been exposed to,” Mazzotta concluded. See FoodNavigator-USA.com, July 8, 2014.