More detailed research on toxoplasma in food is needed, according to a risk profile report delivered by the UK’s Advisory Committee on The Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF).
The group has called for further studies to establish foodborne routes of infection and identify the highest risks. The ACMSF, which advises the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has also proposed that analysis is done on the prevalence of toxoplasma in UK livestock and food. This follows earlier preliminary enquiries by the ACMSF and FSA into the area.
Toxoplasma, or toxoplasma gondii, is a protozoan that causes the parasitic disease toxoplasmosis. Human infection can result from the consumption of raw or undercooked meat from infected animals or by ingestion of the parasite in contaminated water, soil or on fruit and vegetables. Infection can also occur through transmission from a pregnant woman to the unborn baby.
Flu-like symptoms, or even no symptoms at all, may be experienced upon initial infection. Thereafter no symptoms are evident unless a person’s immune system is weakened, in which case consequences can be fatal. Pregnant women are also particularly vulnerable to the disease.
Key gaps in our knowledge
“This thorough and detailed report points out key gaps in our knowledge about this parasite and suggests areas where more research is needed which will help us in estimating how much infection is due to food and which foods might be the highest risk,” said Andrew Wadge, FSA chief scientist. “The report also suggests we look again at our advice to vulnerable groups and ensure that it reflects current scientific knowledge. We're going to look carefully at the report's recommendations and will publish a response in due course.”
ACMSF chair Sarah O'Brien said: “This report shows that there is more work to be done to estimate how big an issue toxoplasmosis is for the general population. I think we understand better the risks involved for those who are pregnant or have a weakened immune system which is why the FSA issues specific advice for these groups.
“However, as yet there is no evidence to suggest that people generally should change their eating habits, and I think the FSA is right to say that most of the population can continue to enjoy lamb and beef cooked rare.”
The latest ACMSF risk profile report can be downloaded here .