Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Chobani’s successful yogurt recipe may be its real problem


Image Courtesy of Ehpien Flickr Photostream
With the FDA receiving numerous reports of consumers getting sick eating Chobani yogurt, we must remember the Greek yogurt maker has to be compliant with minimum health and safety requirements, and would even strive to exceed them at all times. The company acting voluntarily has recalled all products with IMS number 16-012 shipped from its Idaho facility.

The problem may be the company’s recipe which made them the “number one” Greek yogurt in the U.S as claimed on their website. Chobani prides itself in making their product “without preservatives, animal thickeners, or artificial flavors, and using only real fruit”.

Commercially, yogurt is not that simple to make and ship. The process is sensitive to
temperatures, and timing and prone to contamination. Adding fruit adds to the complexity. Challenges such as the product being thick enough not to spill out of containers, yet being able to be moved through pipes and poured into containers require both mechanical and chemical answers. Manufacturers have to add thickeners and stabilizers to the milk and then add cultures. The fruit goes in at the end.

A cluster of female cochineal beatles.
Courtesy of Frank Vincentz-Wikipedia.
Yogurt companies may call their product "yogurt", but in reality, there is little of value in them. By the time they reach the shelf, even the probiotic yogurts do not have much culture left in them. Most of what is in the container is milk solids, thickeners, and flavors. They quite likely do not use real fruit, instead opting for highly processed chemically treated fruits, with artificial flavors, in addition to preservatives. Since the coloring is not to the “consumer’s” liking they throw in ground up cochineal beetles to impart a warm pink color. Clearly, yogurt quality is not the first or the last to get compromised by a large business for mechanical efficiency and economic expediency.


Starbucks, another user of beetle meat, promised last year to stop using insect coloring for their strawberry frappuccinos. It will be interesting to see how Starbucks will resolve this problem when they start carrying Dannon fruit yogurts. Dannon has defended using the bugs in a “so deal with it” type of response.

The consumer gets a chemically loaded product that resembles yogurt, looks attractive enough, is convenient to store and eat, but probably not all that healthy and given the fruit or fruit flavored versions, is most likely loaded with sugar, but that is considered okay as long as it is low fat or non-fat. In reality it should have been the other way around. A good healthy yogurt should be full fat without any added sugar, and should contain no fruit. But, ultimately, what the consumers want is what they get.
For the manufacturer, with less ‘real’ product and more artificial and low cost ingredients, cost of production is low, and there is very little chance of contamination. Both consumer and producer are happy, and both settle for a less than ideal product.

Coloured scanning electron microscope
image ofMucor circinelloides
sporangiophores (courtesy of F.J. Nicolas)
Along came Chobani, promising to be different! They wanted a niche market where they would sell real yogurt and real fruit. For a product without spoilage fighting fat, containing real fruit, and no preservatives, this would be a difficult challenge. Fruits, especially berries, are prone to carrying fungi that may survive even a chemical wash. If fungus sneaks in at any point in the yogurt making, or packaging process, it can wreak havoc, especially in absence of chemical agents and preservatives. The same goes for bad bacteria. If a batch of milk drops in temperature to below 55 degrees C, bad bacteria can multiply rapidly, effectively preventing the S. Thermophilus, L. Bulgaricus, and other good bacteria to successfully ferment the mix.

Chobani has said the problems have been caused by Mucor circinelloides, a common fungal plant pathogen. It can cause health problems if not handled properly. The curious thing about this microbe is that it is widely used in food production to biologically produce pectinase, an enzyme that has widespread application in fruit pulping, wine making, fermenting Camellia sinensis plant leaves into black tea, and in producing beta carotene. Because of its affinity for lipids the fungus is also being investigated for bio-diesel production.

Mucor circinelloides may be part of Chobani’s fruit yogurt production process, but may have snuck in at the wrong time or wrong place affecting even the non fruit versions.

Sources:
U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page. "Chobani, Inc. Voluntarily Recalls Greek Yogurt Because of Product Concerns." Accessed September 11, 2013. http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm367298.htm
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Chobani Yogurt. "Who We Are." Accessed September 11, 2013. http://www.chobani.com/who-we-are/
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CBS News. "Starbucks Strawberry Frappuccinos dyed with crushed up cochineal bugs, report says - HealthPop." Accessed September 11, 2013. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57405140-10391704/starbucks-strawberry-frappuccinos-dyed-with-crushed-up-cochineal-bugs-report-says/
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Milwaukee and Wisconsin News, Sports, Weather, Business, Opinion, Investigative Reporting | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Dannon defends use of crushed beetles to color yogurt - JSOnline." Accessed September 11, 2013. http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/news/217018731.html
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National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Effect of immobilized polyga... [Biotechnol Appl Biochem. 2013 Mar-Apr] - PubMed - NCBI." Accessed September 11, 2013. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23600573
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National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Improvement of tea leaves fermen... [Acta Microbiol Immunol Hung. 2012] - PubMed - NCBI." Accessed September 11, 2013. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22982636
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Home - Springer. "Strain and Culture Conditions Improvement for β-Carotene Production With Mucor - Springer." Accessed September 11, 2013. http://link.springer.com/protocol/10.1385%2F1-59259-847-1%3A239
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JGI Genome Portal - Home. "Home - Mucor circinelloides CBS277.49 v2.0." Accessed September 11, 2013. http://genome.jgi-psf.org/Mucci2/Mucci2.home.html
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Image Courtesy of The Genome Portal of the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute I. V. Grigoriev, H. Nordberg, I. Shabalov, A. Aerts, M. Cantor, D. Goodstein, A. Kuo, S. Minovitsky, R. Nikitin, R. A. Ohm, R. Otillar, A. Poliakov, I. Ratnere, R. Riley, T. Smirnova, D. Rokhsar, and I. Dubchak. Nucleic Acids Res 2011 0: gkr947v1-gkr947
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Cochineal Beatles. Dactylopius coccus growing in Barlovento, La Palma, Canary Islands.
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. "File:Dactylopius coccus (Barlovento) 04 ies.jpg." Accessed September 11, 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Dactylopius_coccus_(Barlovento)_04_ies.jpg

Tags:
#Chobani #fruityogurt #nonfatyogurt #MucorCircinelloides #fungus #sThermophilus #Lbulgaricus #FDA #cochinealbeetles

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