Demonstration of safety of probiotics -- a review

Int J Food Microbiol. 1998 Oct 20;44(1-2):93-106. doi: 10.1016/s0168-1605(98)00128-7.


Probiotics are commonly defined as viable microorganisms (bacteria or yeasts) that exhibit a beneficial effect on the health of the host when they are ingested. They are used in foods, especially in fermented dairy products, but also in pharmaceutical preparations. The development of new probiotic strains aims at more active beneficial organisms. In the case of novel microorganisms and modified organisms the question of their safety and the risk to benefit ratio have to be assessed. Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) in foods have a long history of safe use. Members of the genera Lactococcus and Lactobacillus are most commonly given generally-recognised-as-safe (GRAS) status whilst members of the genera Streptococcus and Enterococcus and some other genera of LAB contain some opportunistic pathogens. Lactic acid bacteria are intrinsically resistant to many antibiotics. In many cases resistances are not, however, transmissible, and the species are also sensitive to many clinically used antibiotics even in the case of a lactic acid bacteria- associated opportunistic infection. Therefore no particular safety concern is associated with intrinsic type of resistance. Plasmid-associated antibiotic resistance, which occasionally occurs, is another matter because of the possibility of the resistance spreading to other, more harmful species and genera. The transmissible enterococcal resistance against glycopeptide antibiotics (vancomycin and teicoplanin) is particularly noteworthy, as vancomycin is one of the last effective antibiotics left in the treatment of certain multidrug-resistant pathogens. New species and more specific strains of probiotic bacteria are constantly identified. Prior to incorporating new strains into products their efficacy should be carefully assessed, and a case by case evaluation as to whether they share the safety status of traditional food-grade organisms should be made. The current documentation of adverse effects in the literature is reviewed. Future recommendations for the safety of already existing and new probiotics will be given.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial
  • Humans
  • Lactobacillus / drug effects
  • Plasmids
  • Probiotics / adverse effects*
  • Vancomycin / pharmacology


  • Vancomycin