July 8, 2014 at 1:47 PM ET
Ten months after a nationwide recall of Chobani Greek yogurt linked to reports of more than 400 illnesses, microbiologists say the fungus responsible for the outbreak isn’t as harmless as company officials indicated.
Experts with Duke University tested yogurt affected by the September 2013 recall taken from the refrigerator of a Texas couple who said they both became ill after eating it.
The scientists found that the sample contained Mucor circinelloides, the fungus detected at the Twin Falls, Idaho, plant where the yogurt was made. But additional testing revealed that it was a subspecies of the bug that is commonly associated with human infections.
“The potential risk would be higher than we might have thought,” said Soo Chan Lee, a senior research associate with the Duke Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology. The study is published in the journal mBio.
That contradicts the position of experts cited by Chobani who said the mold is “not considered a disease-causing microorganism," and might pose risk only to people with compromised immune systems.
But Dr. Alejandro Mazzotta, Chobani's vice president of global quality, food safety and regulatory affairs, disputed the study findings.
"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," he said in a statement. Chobani officials say they've made significant investments in technology and personnel to improve food safety procedures.
At least 403 reports of illness tied to the recall were reported in the past year, Food and Drug Administration officials said Monday. Reports aren't confirmed cases, the FDA noted.
Chobani has taken steps to eradicate the mold at the plant, FDA officials said.
- JoNel Aleccia