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Bacillus cereus in personal care products: risk to consumers

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Bacillus cereus is ubiquitous in nature and thus occurs naturally in a wide range of raw materials and foodstuffs. B. cereus spores are resistant to desiccation and heat and able to survive dry storage and cooking. Vegetative cells produce several toxins which on ingestion in sufficient numbers can cause vomiting and/or diarrhoea depending on the toxins produced. Gastrointestinal disease is commonly associated with reheated or inadequately cooked foods. In addition to being a rare cause of several acute infections (e.g. pneumonia and septicaemia), B. cereus can also cause localized infection of post‐surgical or trauma wounds and is a rare but significant pathogen of the eye where it may result in severe endophthalmitis often leading to loss of vision. Key risk factors in such cases are trauma to the eye and retained contaminated intraocular foreign bodies. In addition, rare cases of B. cereus‐associated keratitis (inflammation of the cornea) have been linked to contact lens use. Bacillus cereus is therefore a microbial contaminant that could adversely affect product safety of cosmetic and facial toiletries and pose a threat to the user if other key risk factors are also present. The infective dose in the human eye is unknown, but as few as 100 cfu has been reported to initiate infection in a susceptible animal model. However, we are not aware of any reports in the literature of B. cereus infections in any body site linked with use of personal care products. Low levels of B. cereus spores may on occasion be present in near‐eye cosmetics, and these products have been used by consumers for many years. In addition, exposure to B. cereus is more likely to occur through other routes (e.g. dustborne contamination) due to its ubiquity and resistance properties of spores. The organism has been recovered from the eyes of healthy individuals. Therefore, although there may be a perceived hazard, the risk of severe eye infections as a consequence of exposure through contaminated near‐eye cosmetics is judged to be vanishingly small. It is unlikely that more stringent microbiological standards for near‐eye cosmetics will have any impact on the risk of severe eye infections caused by B. cereus, as these are not linked to use of personal care products.
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Keywords: Bacillus cereus; microbiology; near‐eye cosmetics; risk assessment; safety testing

Document Type: Review Article

Publication date: April 1, 2015

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