Lactobacilli are Gram positive rods belonging to the Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) group. Their phenotypic traits, such as each species' obligate/facultative, homo/heterofermentation abilities play a crucial role in souring raw milk and in the production of fermented dairy products such as cheese, yoghurt and fermented milk (including probiotics). An up to date safety analysis of these lactobacilli is needed to ensure consumer safety. Lactobacillus genus is a heterogeneous microbial group containing some 135 species and 27 subspecies, whose classification is constantly being reshuffled. With the recent use of advanced molecular methods it has been suggested that the extreme diversity of the Lactobacillus genomes would justify recognition of new subgeneric divisions. A combination of genotypic and phenotypic tests, for example DNA-based techniques and conventional carbohydrate tests, is required to determine species. Pulsed-Field gel Electrophoresis (PFGE) has been successfully applied to strains of dairy origin and is the most discriminatory and reproducible method for differentiating Lactobacillus strains. The bibliographical data support the hypothesis that the ingestion of Lactobacillus is not at all hazardous since lactobacillemia induced by food, particularly fermented dairy products, is extremely rare and only occurs in predisposed patients. Some metabolic features such as the possible production of biogenic amines in fermented products could generate undesirable adverse effects. A minority of starter and adjunct cultures and probiotic Lactobacillus strains may exceptionally show transferable antibiotic resistance. However, this may be underestimated as transferability studies are not systematic. We consider that transferable antibiotic resistance is the only relevant cause for caution and justifies performing antibiotic-susceptibility assays as these strains have the potential to serve as hosts of antibiotic-resistance genes, with the risk of transferring these genes to other bacteria. However, as a general rule, lactobacilli have a high natural resistance to many antibiotics, especially vancomycin, that is not transferable. Safety assessment requirements for Lactobacillus strains of technological interest should be limited to an antibiotic profile and a study to determine whether any antibiotic resistance(s) of medical interest detected is (or are) transferable. This agrees with the recent EFSA proposal suggesting attribution of a QPS status for 32 selected species of lactobacilli. © 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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