Last updated on 4 September 2012

Further studies on toxoplasma needed

lamb chops raw

A risk profile on toxoplasma in the food chain by the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) has recommended that further studies are needed to establish the importance of foodborne routes of infection and identify the highest risks. The suggested studies include work to assess the prevalence of toxoplasma in UK livestock and in food.

We're going to look carefully at the report's recommendations and will publish a response in due course.

The ACMSF provides the Agency with independent advice on the microbiological safety of food.

The ACMSF's Ad Hoc Group on Vulnerable Groups was asked by the Agency to review the current evidence on toxoplasmosis in humans and animals in the UK, to consider the risks from acquiring infection from food and identify what work may be needed to obtain robust data on foodborne sources of toxoplasmosis.

The group also looked at the toxoplasmosis advice given to vulnerable groups in the UK and other countries, and suggested that the current consumer advice to these groups should be reviewed.

FSA Chief Scientist, Andrew Wadge said: '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. 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.'

Sarah O'Brien, Chair of the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food, 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 full report is available on the ACMSF website at the link below.

Science behind the story

Toxoplasmosis is caused by infection with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which is prevalent in humans, warm-blooded animals and birds. Infection in the majority of healthy people causes no symptoms. The main groups where infection can be serious are pregnant women and those with a weakened immune system. 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.