Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii). This single-celled organism is commonly found throughout the world with domestic and feral cats playing an important role in its spread. The parasite forms egg-like structures called oocysts that can be found in the animal’s faeces.
A recent study by Food Standards Australia New Zealand and the Australian National University (p58) found that the Toxoplasma gondii parasite caused 15,500 cases of symptom casing toxoplasmosis in Australia each year costing the economy $13.1 million in lost productivity and premature mortality. Toxoplasmosis infection is very risky for pregnant women and their babies as well as people with compromised immune systems.
Our research found only 17% of Australians have heard of toxoplasmosis but research shows 25% to 30% of Australians show signs of past Toxoplasma infections. The most common way people get a Toxoplasma infection is via cats, however there is a possibility that it can be picked up by eating raw or rare sheep, pork, kangaroo or game meat as well as offal such as heart, liver, tongue and duck, and goose paté. The Toxoplasma gondii parasite isn’t generally frequently found in beef meat.
If you are going to consume rare or raw meat, or feed it to your pets, freeze it for at least 3 days to kill any parasites then defrost in the fridge or microwave. It’s still much safer to cook products as advised to minimise risks of food poisoning.
Toxoplasmosis is mostly transmitted by domestic and feral cat faeces so always wash your hands after cleaning out cat litter trays and, if you are pregnant, get someone else to do this or wear rubber gloves. Fence off your vegetable gardens and cover children’s sandpits so cats cannot get in.
Another way of catching this infection is touching or eating raw or undercooked lamb, pork or kangaroo meat. The parasites can be stored in small pockets (cysts) in the muscle tissue of these meats. Drinking contaminated unpasteurised milk can also cause infection with toxoplasmosis parasites.
We recommend you use a digital meat thermometer and cook your foods safely to these temperatures measured in the centre of the food:
- Beef, lamb, kangaroo in whole cuts like chops, steaks, pieces and roasts at least 63°C (medium rare) and leave to rest 3 to 5 minutes.
- Pork whole cuts and pieces to 70°C and roasts to between 70°C and 75°C and leave to rest 3 to 5 minutes.
- Beef, lamb, kangaroo, or pork that have been made into sausages, hamburgers or mince as well as rolled roasts, liver and other offal 75°C
- All poultry (whole cuts, roast or mince) should be cooked to at least 75°C.
Remember to clean and sanitise your meat thermometer between uses.
Other practical ways to minimise the chance of infection include:
- Freeze meat for several days before cooking
- Peel or wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating
- Wash cutting boards, dishes, counters, utensils, and hands with hot soapy water after contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood, or unwashed fruits or vegetables
- Avoid drinking untreated water.
Check out this advice from the Better Health Channel