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Microbiological Safety

Some of our consumer products have the potential to change the human microbiome or raise microbiological questions around antimicrobial resistance. To ensure our consumers are protected, we are developing and applying new scientific capabilities to assess these microbiological risks using robust, science-based risk assessment and novel assessment approaches. We are building on more traditional microbiology risk assessment methods, such as use of the Codex Alimentarius principles and predictive modelling, to evaluate the safety of Unilever products. In collaboration with world-class experts, we are tackling evolving problems by incorporating novel, leading edge assessment approaches.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR)

When bacteria develop resistance mechanisms to an antimicrobial ingredient this is known as antimicrobial resistance. Many of our hygiene products contain antimicrobial actives (microbicides) which play an important role in practices that are used to maintain human health e.g. handwashing or disinfection of surfaces. Working with external experts, we have developed a framework to assess the likelihood of bacteria developing resistance during use – both to microbicides and cross-resistance to clinically-relevant antibiotics. Our approach considers factors such as exposure (in-use conditions), the weight of evidence considerations (e.g., history of use), and predictive and refined in vitro protocols.

Human Microbiome

The human microbiome is the community of microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses) which interact with the body. Every human being contains about 10 times as many microbial cells as human cells. An imbalance in the microbiome can be associated with various diseases/disorders. A healthy microbiome has a protective role, so it is essential that the functionality of beneficial organisms is not compromised by the ingredients within our products. Currently, there is no established method to assess the safety of microbiome perturbations that could occur following the application of beauty and personal care products. We have been developing a tiered approach to enable us to evaluate the impact of materials on the skin and oral microbiome. This work has involved input from external experts in microbial risk assessment, skin and oral microbiome research, microbial ecology, bioinformatics, mathematical modelling, and immunology. We are continuing to collaborate to refine and validate this approach.

Tiered approach to assess safety of potential microbiome perturbations induced by application of beauty and personal care products

Figure 1: Tiered approach to assess safety of potential microbiome perturbations induced by application of beauty and personal care products


Publications, presentations, posters, videos, and learning materials for Microbiology

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Tools & Approaches

Tools and approaches that we use in Microbiological Safety assessment

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