Retail Meat Analyzed for Parasites
By Rosalie Marion
Bliss February 14, 2007
WASHINGTON, Feb. 14—A recently completed survey of meats for a
common microscopic parasite found none in raw beef and poultry and a low level
in pork. The study focused on the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which
commonly infects animals and humans worldwide, and was conducted by scientists
with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and
The study was led by scientists
E. Hill and
P. Dubey of USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and was published in The Journal of
Parasitology. Hill and Dubey are experts in parasitology research at
ARS' Henry A. Wallace Beltsville (Md.) Agricultural Research Center (BARC).
The scientists analyzed samples of retail meat obtained from nearly
700 stores nationwide. More than 6,000 samples2,000 each of pork, chicken
and beefwere purchased from stores in 28 major U.S. geographic areas.
Each sample weighed a minimum of 2.2 pounds, for a total of more than 14,000
pounds of meat tested.
None of the raw beef and chicken meat samples contained live T.
gondii parasites, based on a controlled analysis. In raw pork from retail
meat cases nationwide, the prevalence of live T. gondii parasites was
estimated at a low 0.4 percent, or about four per 1,000 samples.
"The survey shows that beef and chicken have negligible amounts of the
parasite, while pork has extremely low levels that are effectively eliminated
by proper cooking," said microbiologist
Jenkins, with ARS'
Parasitic Disease Laboratory at BARC.
Besides the consumption of undercooked meat, another route of T.
gondii infection is exposure to egglike oocysts in the feces of infected
cats. A rodent- or bird-eating cat that has T. gondii in its body expels
millions of infectious-stage oocysts of the parasite during a week or two.
The parasite can seriously damage developing fetuses and persons with
weakened immune systems, such as those infected with HIV, according to experts.
Infants born to mothers who become infected for the first time just before or
during pregnancy are at risk of developing severe toxoplasmosis due to T.
The hardy encapsulated oocysts create the risk of infection when
deposited in soil, sand and litter boxes or near farm animal feed. To reduce
risk of infection, wash hands well after outdoor activities and after handling
raw meat, and don't eat undercooked meat.
For more tips on reducing the risk of infection, go to:
about this research in the February 2007 issue of Agricultural Research
ARS is the USDA's chief in-house scientific research agency.