Toxoplasma gondii sporulated and unsporulated oocysts, UV fluorescence microscopy.
Toxoplasma gondii sporulated and unsporulated oocysts, UV fluorescence microscopy.

The increasing trend in the production of free-range organically raised meat could increase the risk of Toxoplasma gondii contamination of meat, says a study by Jones and Dubey in the May 2012 Clinical Infectious Diseases.

The reason the risk is higher in livestock and poultry that are “free-range” or spend most of their lives on pasture, is because during their production phase they have more exposure to soil that may contain Toxoplasma gondii oocysts.

An article in MyHealthNewsDaily says the oocysts have been found mostly in swine, poultry, sheep and wild game, less so in dairy and beef cattle, though it can be transmitted through raw or undercooked ground beef.

Veterinarians understand that Toxoplasma gondii oocysts can be transmitted in a variety of ways from foodborne causes (eating undercooked meat), animal-to human and mother-to-child, but most consumers are more familiar with toxoplasmosis being a threat to pregnant women and spread by cats through feces. They may not be as familiar with toxoplasmosis spread via undercooked meat and unwashed fruits and vegetables that may have been contaminated by oocysts in the soil where they were grown.

Like many foodborne risks, this one can be reduced or eliminated by properly washing fruits and vegetables and cooking meat at recommended temperatures, recommends food safety expert Doug Powell, PhD, Kansas State University, and, he encourages, using a tip-sensitive digital thermometer to make sure you’re cooking food to safe temperatures.

Read more about this study from Dan Murphy on Drovers/CattleNetwork here.

Read more about toxoplasmosis here