Probiotics in Diary Technology

Most probiotic products are either foods or dietary supplements. A few probiotics are marketed as medical foods. Although fermented dairy products such as yogurt and kefir are typically associated with delivery of “beneficial cultures”, the types of foods claiming to deliver probiotics has expanded to include granola and candy bars, frozen yogurt, cereal, juice and cookies. Whether or not any given product, even ones that claim to contain “probiotics”, actually deliver adequate amounts of efficacious probiotic strains cannot be ascertained from just looking at the product. Consumers can contact the manufacturer to determine what studies have been conducted on their specific product as formulated and what health benefits should be expected. Products are required by law to be labeled in a truthful and not misleading fashion, safe for their intended use, and be manufactured under Good Manufacturing Practices. However, it is not practical for regulatory authorities to verify compliance with these laws for all products.

 

In food products, the probiotics used are primarily Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Streptococcus thermophilus, and more recently Bacillus. Yogurt is a primary food vehicle for probiotics. It is produced by fermentation of milk by two starter cultures, Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. In the United States, post-fermentation heat treatment of yogurt, which kills all live cultures, is allowed. To help consumers distinguish between yogurts that contain live active cultures and those that have been heat treated; the National Yogurt Association established a “Live Active Culture” seal. The seal is available for use by any yogurt manufacturer on packaging and requires refrigerated yogurt to contain 108 viable lactic acid bacteria per gram at the time of manufacture. The seal also can be used on frozen yogurts containing 107 viable lactic acid bacteria per gram at time of manufacture. However, these counts do not differentiate probiotic bacteria from starter culture bacteria (L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus), and therefore the seal is not useful in determining if adequate levels of added probiotic bacteria are present in a yogurt. In other words, the standard refers to a total number of live cultures and levels of each microbe present do not have to individually meet the standard.

The dietary supplement market for probiotic cultures seems to be a more diverse market than probiotics for dairy. The supplement market contains many different product formats and contents, including capsules, liquids, powders and tablets. If properly prepared and stored, probiotic bacteria can remain viable in dried form and reach the intestine alive when consumed. A diverse array of bacterial genera and species are represented in these products, including Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces, Bacillus and Enterococcus.

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