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Int J Food Microbiol. 2008 Sep 1;126(3):316-20. Epub 2007 Aug 22.

Safety assessment of dairy microorganisms: Propionibacterium and Bifidobacterium.

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Laboratory of Food Biotechnology, Institute of Food Science and Nutrition, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, Switzerland.


The genera Propionibacterium and Bifidobacterium are clustered in the class Actinobacteria and form the anaerobic branch of coryneform bacteria. The dairy propionibacteria comprising four species P. freudenreichii, P. acidipropionici, P. jensenii and P. thoenii are industrially important as starter cultures in hard-cheese ripening and recently also as protective bio-preservatives and probiotics. These four species are considered as safe whereas cutaneous Propionibacterium species (also named "acnes group") are pathogens. In contrast, bifidobacteria in fermented dairy products and milk powder are exclusively used as probiotics; selected strains of several species (out of more than thirty) contribute to this task. It has been only rarely found that commensal bifidobacteria have been connected with certain dental and other infections. Consequently, only one single species, Bifidobacterium dentium, is recognized as pathogenic. Genome sequence analysis of Bifidobacterium longum and molecular biological analysis of other probiotic strains confirmed so far the absence of virulence and pathogenecity factors. However, tetracycline resistance genes tet(W), although probably not easy transferable, were found in Bifidobacterium strains, also in Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis, the worldwide most used industrial strain. Conclusively, strains from the Propionibacterium and Bifidobacterium species in dairy food generally represent so far no health hazards.

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