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Experts offer first estimate of live microbes in food to move towards dietary recommendations

The research – published in The Journal of Nutrition ​and funded by the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) – represents the first classification of live microbes in individual foods consumed in the US diet. The extensive classification uses data collected from 74,466 children and adults through the Centers for Disease and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2001 to 2018.

“Numbers of live microbes must first be estimated for the most common foods and beverages eaten in America,”​ the research team explained.

“Thus, our primary aim was to assess the number of live microbes that are consumed in the diet by estimating amounts in foods and beverages reported by NHANES participants.”

Estimating viable microbial cell numbers and consumption

As a first step, the researchers assigned each food in the NHANES database an estimated range of live microbes, creating categories of foods with low, medium and high levels of colony-forming units per gram (cfu/g).

“These levels of Lo, Med, and Hi were chosen to reflect the approximate numbers of viable microbes expected to be present in pasteurized foods (<10 4​ cfu/g), fresh fruits and vegetables eaten unpeeled (104​–107​ cfu/g), and unpasteurized fermented foods and probiotic supplements (>107​ cfu/g),” ​the study stated.

Of the 9,388 food codes in the database, 8,954 were estimated to contain low numbers of living microbes such as processed American cheese, cooked meats, gravies and peeled produce. Over 85% of food codes assigned Med or Hi contained vegetables, fruits or milk and dairy, with the Hi category comprised primarily fermented dairy.