A study was conducted by researchers at Flinders University on minced lamb from a supermarket in South Australia. In the study, 79 samples of 500g lamb mince packages were purchased three times per week for six months, between April and September 2017. The result was the discovery of Toxoplasma gondii in more than one third of the minced lamb that was sampled.
The presence of Toxoplasma gondii is not limited to South Australia. Researchers indicate that their findings are 'likely to be generalisable, because Australian supermarket retailers purchase their lamb across a range of farms throughout the country.'
This means that the risks associated with Toxoplasma gondii must be understood by food businesses across all states and territories in Australia.
What is Toxoplasma?
Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite which infects animals such as cats, birds as well as livestock such as pigs, cattle and lamb. Animals become a host to the parasite by ingesting the parasitic cysts that can be found in water, soil or on unwashed vegetables.
According to the study, which was published in the Australian New Zealand Journal of Public Health, one of the main ways humans can contract Toxoplasma gondii is from eating raw or undercooked meat of animals that contain the cysts from the parasite.
What are the symptoms of a Toxoplasma infection?
An infection by Toxoplasma gondii is known as toxoplasmosis. It is estimated that up to one third of the human population is a carrier of this parasite.
Many people will not display symptoms, but for those that do, the symptoms will vary depending on the severity of the infection. Mild symptoms are flu-like and can include swollen lymph nodes and muscle aches. Severe symptoms include:
- inflammation of the retina
- reduced or blurred vision
- eye pain from bright lights
- eye redness
These severe symptoms indicate that a more serious infection is present, which can lead to brain damage, eye damage or harm to other organs.
Severe infections are more common for people who are part of high-risk groups such as babies, pregnant women, the elderly and sick or immunocompromised people.
Prevent toxoplasmosis with safe food preparation
Despite the presence of Toxoplasma found in minced lamb, the parasite can be destroyed by either cooking meat to the proper internal temperature or by freezing it.
By following proper rules for preparing, cooking and storing meat, food businesses can prevent the spread of Toxoplasma gondii. The risk of cross-contamination from infected meat products can also be reduced through proper food handling and cleaning and santising methods.
Learn more about these food safety topics and more in the Food Safety First (FSF) nationally recognised online food handling course and Food Safety Supervisor course.