What is a probiotic? IPA releases guidance document on qualifying probiotics

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The definition of probiotic varies by region, and an increasing number of products potentially mislabeled as “probiotic”. In response, the International Probiotics Association has released a guidance document.


“Although we have an acknowledged definition for probiotics (WHO / FAO expert consultation) it has not been implemented globally. Partly because some regions do not have a defined status for probiotics, or guidelines of use, or even probiotic specific regulations; hence this is an attempt to place some clarity around the term probiotics and what organisms would qualify as such,” explained George Paraskevakos, IPA’s Executive Director.

“The proper use of probiotics aren’t so clear especially when trying to differentiate from live microbial cultures used as starters cultures for cheese and yogurt production.

“It was important that we (IPA) as the industries voice produced such a guideline to not only help distinguish these differences but also underline characteristics and properties which qualify organisms to be called probiotic. This gap comes across and is evident when we attend different product shows and see what is being sold as probiotics,” added Paraskevakos.

Key points

According to the guidance, which can be found HERE, the taxonomy must be determined at Genus and species level, and probiotics should be identifiable at the strain level.

“Probiotics are specific strains that need to be definitively identified by using current, valid and internationally accepted techniques,” states the guidance. “As probiotics within the same Genus and species can have strain-specific and unique characteristics, it is imperative to identify probiotics to the strain level. Differentiation between strains within a species allows proper identification in addition to the discrimination of probiotics strains as specific/distinct ingredients.”

The guidance document goes on to discuss establishing a documented history of safe use, which can vary between regulatory agencies around the world.

“IPA professes that probiotic products be identified at the strain level and labelled as such,” said Paraskevakos. “We recommend to our members to market products which are well characterized and identified to the strain level and as mentioned in these new guidelines using proper and up to date available techniques.

“Since we aren’t a government or policing agency we cannot obligate or oversee what companies are putting on their labels. This is up to the regulators and the published laws within each jurisdiction. Our guidelines are voluntary but one thing is for sure when we do publish such documents we make sure regulators are made aware of them.”

What’s next?

Paraskevakos added that IPA is currently working on documents and standards that address significant areas of the sector.

“Earlier this year we published labelling standards,” he noted, “and presently IPA is working on manufacturing standards, testing standards, and looking at aspects of analytical criteria which can form the future.

“Alongside this newly published guideline, together with all the initiatives IPA is working on we are looking to create the A to Z of probiotic quality and standards guide, which can eventually be the basis of the IPA quality seal program.”

IPA World Congress + Probiota Americas 2017

Dr David Keller, VP of Scientific Operations, Ganeden and Chair of the IPA working group on best practices guidelines, will discuss the IPA/CRN best practices guideline for probiotics at the upcoming IPA World Congress + Probiota Americas 2017 event in San Francisco, June 7-9. For more information and to register, please click HERE

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