Microbial Contamination in Natural Supplements

Microbial contamination (bacteria, yeast, fungi) in natural health supplements can be a potentially serious issue.  Supplements contaminated with microbes can lead to faster degradation and lower stability of the product.  The microbes can cause the active ingredients can lose their potency.  They can also pose serious health risks.

Here is a study that evaluated microbial contamination of many supplements on the market.  It is interesting to see just how many issues can arise.  It should cause any intelligent consumer to remain vigilant about quality.

At 88Herbs, we do everything we can to ensure all of our supplements are free of microbial contamination, have the lowest levels of heavy metals, and have no magnesium stearate.

Let’s first understand how supplements can become contaminated with unwanted microbes, and then we’ll look at how we make sure ours are not.

How do microbes get into supplements?

The scary part is that microbes can get into supplements at any stage from growing the herb all the way to encapsulating and storing it.

From an article  in Nutraceuticals World, we see,

“… herbs and botanical materials can carry a number of microbes that often originate from the soil and adhere to various parts of the plant. Harvesting, production, manufacturing, transportation and storage practices can also expose herbal ingredients to microbial contaminants.     Further, these microorganisms can proliferate depending  on a number of factors like moisture and temperature.”

This is why its imperative that the supplement brand you choose has air tight quality control measures in place from sourcing the raw ingredients all the way to delivering the final product safely to the consumer.  One single mis-step along the chain will contaminate the entire batch.

Which microbes are most likely to cause problems?

This can depend on the type of product, but generally speaking the main ones to be concerned about are:

3 different bacteria:

  • Escherichia coli (E. Coli)
  • Salmonella
  • Staphylococcus Aureus

and a variety of fungi (yeast and mold)

Certain types of supplements (such as ginseng) may be also be contaminated with aflotoxins  a specific and toxic type of mycotoxin).  These are carcinogenic metabolites produced by certain fungi (molds).

Which microbes are measured by 3rd party lab tests?

We follow the strict guidelines laid out by Health Canada.  The guidelines for what exactly to test are slightly different for each product depending on the nature of the product.

Here is an example of what we would we would ask a 3rd party lab to test a finished product for:

Standard Plate Count – This is a standard measure of the total     amount of aerobic bacteria in a product sample.

Yeast and Mold – A measurement of the total of all types of      yeast and mold in a product sample.

And each of these 3 specific bacteria mentioned above

  • Escherichia coli (E. Coli)
  • Salmonella
  • Staphylococcus Aureus

Here is some very detailed info on plate count and microbial testing

A quote from the article:

         “8.4.1 Quality standards

         Microbiological

         A total plate count of less than 10 000 cfu g−1, yeast and   mold below 1000 cfu g−1, and coliforms below 100 cfu    g−1, while E. coli, Staphylococcus and Salmonella should not be detectable.”

This is basically stating that extremely low levels of bacteria, yeast, and mold are allowed.  It is also stating that E. Coli, Salmonella, and Staphylococcus Aureus need to be completely absent from the finished product.  No detectable levels are allowed.

Here is an example of a  3rd party COA (certificate of analysis) of our magnesium bisglycinateYou can buy our magnesium bisglycinate here.

It is essential to have the 3rd party lab test the product after it has already been encapsulated.  In other words, you need to have the finished product tested. If you got it tested only when you got the raw material, then you miss out on the potential for discovering contamination that might have happened later in the process (handling it improperly, not having the machines sufficiently cleaned, storing the products in hot or humid conditions, etc)