Handling food safely is of vital importance to our health. As children it is instilled in us that we must wash our hands after going to the toilet, and also before eating, but it is one of those rules that every generation learns, but is seldom explained in detail.
As a living organism we are host to parasites. Whilst we might like to think that it is only animals and particularly our pets that have worms and harmful bacteria, we provide just as welcoming an environment in our own bodies.
The real danger occurs in the very young and the elderly who tend to have either immature or repressed immune systems. The parasites or pathogens are able to take hold and overcome the bodies weakened defense systems.
There is one particular parasite that can not only cause problems for children and adults but also to an unborn foetus as well. This is Toxoplasma Gondii and the condition is called Toxoplasmosis.
Anyone who has been pregnant, will have been asked by their doctor if they have a cat, as this is the main source of this parasite. Cats are predators and they catch and eat infected rodents and birds. The parasite is then carried in the cat’s faeces and out into a litter box or soil. Kittens and young cats are the most likely to be infested with the parasite and it is estimated that over 80% of household cats carry the organism, with no signs or symptoms of the parasite infestation.
The parasite is then passed to the human through contact with the cat and then touching a hand to the mouth or by emptying the litter box without protective gloves. Also gardening without gloves, if you have a cat, can expose you to the risk of infection as you work in soil they have contaminated.
If food is then prepared, the parasite will be passed onto the rest of the family. This is not the only way that we come into contact with the parasite. Most feral cats and even our own domesticated pets roam in other gardens and also in the surrounding countryside. Grass and other feed crops therefore be grown in contaminated soil, and then fed to pigs, sheep and deer, which become infected with Toxoplasmosis. We then handle and eat raw or under cooked meats becoming infected ourselves. We can also come into contact with the parasite on unwashed vegetables that have been grown in contaminated soil and then eaten raw in salads.
The great majority of us carry the Toxoplasma parasite, but very few of us have the symptoms because the immune system, when healthy, keeps the parasite from causing illness. Some people who have Toxoplasmosis may feel as if they have the ‘flu’ with swollen lymph glands or muscle aches. These symptoms can last for about a month. If you are concerned then do go and see your doctor and he may suggest a blood test to check for the parasite.
If a mother is infected before or during her pregnancy, she may not show any symptoms and neither will most babies at birth. However, a small percentage may be born blind or with some brain damage, but these symptoms usually develop over a period of time.
How to protect yourself from Toxoplasmosis.
In the first instance it is about maintaining a healthy immune system. This comes from eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, protein with some carbohydrates most of which should be unprocessed. Industrially processed foods, including refined sugars, should really only make up about 20% of your diet. There are a few basic hygiene guidelines that can minimise your chances of becoming infected with any parasites.
1. Always wash your hands with hot water and anti-bacterial soap after any exposure to soil, sand, litter trays, raw meat or unwashed vegetables.
2. Cook your meat completely so that there is no pink and the juices are clear.
3. Freeze any meat that you buy for at least three days before cooking as this will help kill any parasites.
4. Wear gloves when gardening or emptying litter boxes and always wash your hands afterwards.
5. Wash all surfaces such as cutting boards, knives and utensils used in the preparation of raw meats and unwashed vegetables in very hot, soapy water.
6. Make sure that you thoroughly wash, and if possible peel, all fruits and vegetables before consuming. This especially applies to salads and it is something worth considering when you are eating in a restaurant. Most will be complying with health regulations, but if you are in any doubt about the cleanliness of an establishment, then perhaps better to eat a cooked item on the menu. Also beware of a salad buffet where many hands may be touching the serving spoons before you.
If you are owned by a cat!
It is not necessary to give up your pet if you get pregnant, but if possible get someone else to change the litter box every day, as the parasite does not become infectious until 24 hours after elimination.
Your cat’s chances of becoming infected are reduced if you feed it cooked home prepared food or high quality tinned food.
Do not be tempted to pick up stray kittens or cats if you are pregnant and wait until after the birth to get a new cat. Keep all your pets as parasite free as possible by using one of the number of natural products available. Check with your vet if you are at all concerned about the health of your cat
©sallycronin Just Food For Health 2007
Thank you for dropping by and hope you have found the post interesting. Thanks Sally