Starter Cultures

Probiotics and Prebiotics

Carla Orsi1 and Angelo V. Zambrini2

  • 1 Department of Research & Development, Granarolo S.p.A., Bologna, Italy
  • 2 Department of Quality, Innovation, Safety, Environment, Granarolo S.p.A., Bologna, Italy


The term probiotic (from the Greek “pro life”) was first used by Lilly and Stillwell in 1965 to define “growth-promoting factors produced by microorganisms.” Parker in 1974 suggested an interaction between microorganisms and host in the gut, but it was Fuller in 1989 who defined a probiotic as “A live microbial food supplement which beneficially affects the host by improving its intestinal microbial balance” Further definitions were created by authors or organizations in the following years.

According to the current international FAO/WHO definition (2001,, probiotics are: “Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit to the host” According to the Italian Ministry of Health, “probiotics are microorganisms which, once ingested in adequate amounts, have a beneficial effects on the organism” It is important to underline that the FAO/WHO definition does not make any reference to the human origin of the bacterial strains as a parameter of definition and selection of probiotics, but it focuses on the benefical effect to the host.

Based on this definition, the European regulatory authorities consider the term probiotic as a real health claim pursuant to regulation EU 1924/2006 (Aureli et al., 2011).

“This interpretation is presently leading to restrictions on the use of the term in food and in supplements, but will probably allow consumers to immediately identify the strains and the products for which a beneficial effect on health has been demonstrated” (Aureli et al., 2011). Many probiotic microorganisms belong to genera and species recognized as safe for their long history of use in food, but in any case, in recent years the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a Scientific Opinion with the QPS list (Qualified Presumption of Safety) of microorganisms intentionally added to food and feed. The QPS list is periodically reviewed and updated by EFSA to take into account any new scientific published evidences regarding identity, body of knowledge, possible pathogenicity, and end use of bacterial species/strains, in particular probiotics.

The selection of a strain to be used as a probiotic is a complex process that starts with the isolation of the strain from a natural source, the most suitable approach being the intestinal environment. It is necessary to identify the microorganism to species/strain

Advances in Dairy Products, First Edition.

Edited by Francesco Conto, Matteo A. Del Nobile, Michele Faccia, Angelo V. Zambrini, and Amalia Conte. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

level due to the fact that the probiotic effects are strain specific (Fao/WHO, 2006). For the characterization of the putative probiotic strain, further tests are required, taking into account its “functional” properties and safety assessment, including in vitro and in vivo studies with animal models and finally human studies covering both efficacy and safety aspects. A list of probiotic microorganisms with their identified beneficial effects is reported in Table

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