CFUs on a Probiotics Label - Do You Know What You're Getting?

CFUs stands for "colony forming units" and is a measurement of some of the good bacteria and yeasts inside. This page explains what colony forming units are and how they are listed on probiotics products. 

What is the Importance of CFUs?

When you see CFU on a label, it tells you how many good bacteria or yeasts are going to be able to live and reproduce within you.

It is easier to compare products when the standard of measurement is the same, and that's where colony forming units make an "apples-to-apples" comparison easier. Products that simply state total numbers of good bacteria or yeasts by weight (such as "grams") of microbes in a product are not easily compared to other products, and they may not contain enough cultures to make them therapeutic.

Reputable companies should state the number of colony forming units. And I believe that it is better if the CFUs stated on the label are at the time of product expiration, not at the time the product was manufactured for several reasons listed below.

Reputable manufacturers will tell you on the product label if the CFU is at the time of manufacture or at product expiration. This information is very important, because it tells you if you really are getting the number of microbes listed on the label.

Here is how probiotics are usually made: Only certain companies sell the bacteria and yeasts, usually in a raw material form. They then ship it to many product manufacturers who package the raw material in their products, and those are the products you buy and the labels you read.

If a product manufacturer does not have the raw material tested for the number of colony forming units prior to putting it in their packages, the number on the label could be the number that was in the raw material, not the number that is actually in the product you're buying. In most cases, refrigeration of the product from start-to-delivery is optimal for CFU preservation.

Some probiotics, such as some Saccharomyces boulardii yeast ones, may state on the label NOT to refrigerate it. However, this is rare. Always read and follow product label instructions.

If you use probiotic products from a reputable manufacturer who follows strict handling procedures, and you buy your products from a seller who knows how to store the products properly, the CFU you consume will be at least the amount you were promised.

Return to page describing flora.

Return to CFU page.

See how probiotics are classified so you know what you're getting.

Here's other information on microbes, including probiotics.

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