I’D LIKE MINE RARE, PLEASE
WHAT EVERY MEAT EATER NEEDS TO KNOW
Rare, medium or well-done? Steak-lovers beware! Animal Guru and veterinary scientist Artem looks at the less palatable side of America’s favourite meal. Perhaps it’s time you went vegetarian…
A while back, when I wasn’t a vegetarian, I loved the taste of a bloody steak. Sure, I was warned I could contract “something” from undercooked meat, but I was never told what it would be, how it would affect me, and I certainly never bothered to find out for myself. If you’re also the type of individual who prefers their steak rare, enjoys undercooked seafood, or even chows down on raw eggs, then at the very least I hope you know that you could be leaving yourself open to some nasty animalborne diseases. And there are some deadly consequences from your dining habits. In my case, I got lucky. I think. Unless some parasite has encysted itself somewhere in my body, I have managed to avoid any major problems. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be so lucky. With this cheerful thought in mind, here are some of the nastiest food-borne illnesses you might encounter and how they can destroy your life, you’re unborn child’s, and your dinner party guest’s.
A Brain Eating Worm: Cysticercosis Evil Agent: Taenia solium This little stinker, known as the pork tapeworm, may be contracted from eating or handling undercooked pork. The worm’s eggs have a particular liking for your muscles and brain. The consequences of its ingestion include vision loss, seizures, and death. If you’re a fan of eating undercooked pork then you’ll also be a willing victim of another nasty little worm called
Trichinella spiralis. This roundworm’s larvae similarly burrow into your body, producing a condition called trichinosis, which may possibly lead to fever, muscle pain, and death. In some places around the world, upwards of a
20% prevalence rate of cysticercosis in the
general population is not unheard of.
Help! I Can’t Breathe! Paragonimiasis
Evil Agent: Paragonimus westermani While this parasite is a ‘fluke,’ it won’t be a fluke if you get it from eating undercooked seafood.
Known as the lung fluke, this flatworm is found in seafood like crabs and crayfish. P. westermani will penetrate your intestines and travel to your lungs, where it will lay eggs and wreak havoc. This flatworm will ultimately cause difficulty breathing, a bloody cough, and seizures if it infects the brain. While this infection is quite rare, and is more common in certain regions of Africa and Asia, imported crabs and crayfish that are contaminated have been known to infect humans outside of these regions.
Bloody Diarrhea: Salmonellosis Evil Agent: Salmonella species Lovers of raw eggs should not throw caution to the wind! Eggs infected with Salmonella affect over 142,000 Americans annually and can contaminate virtually any food you eat – although eggs are a frequent offender. Worryingly, some of the Salmonella strains are already becoming resistant to antibiotic treatment. The consequences of these bacteria include excruciating pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and death.
Toxoplasmosis Evil Agent: Toxoplasma gondii
T. gondii is a parasite that may be found in undercooked lamb, pork, beef and poultry. Unpasteurised milk and the household cat are also potential sources of infection. You don’t have to eat your cat to be infected, and you certainly don’t need to give up your favorite kitty. In fact, humans in many developed nations are are far more likely to acquire Toxoplasmosis from eating contaminated food than from cats. Cats contract Toxoplasma from hunting rodents, birds, or, like you, eating contaminated food. In fact, about 45% of domestic cats in developed nations carry T. gondii. 3–10 days after infection, the cat will begin to pass Toxoplasma eggs in its feces for a period of about two weeks. Once passed, it will take at least one day for the eggs to become infective. The good news is that these Toxoplasma eggs are only excreted once in a cat’s lifetime (unless it gets problems with its immune system in later life). In some areas of the world up to 95% of people are infected by this parasite, although this number is usually far lower in highly developed nations. But if you avoid letting your cat hunt, make sure it doesn’t eat contaminated food, clean its litter box on a daily basis and keep it healthy overall, then your chances of your cat infecting you with Toxoplasma are very slim are very slim. If you do become infected, you may escape without any ill effects whatsoever. But more unlucky folk (and especially those with serious illnesses) may find Toxoplasma causing inflammation of the brain, learning disabilities in children, schizophrenia, abortion, and death.
I’ll have my steak well done, please So what’s the moral of the story? If the food you eat at home or in a restaurant has been properly stored, washed, and thoroughly cooked, then the chances of you getting one of these nasty bugs is minimal. However, if you’re a risktaker who doesn’t follow proper hygiene and sanitation, doesn’t clean their food well, cook it thoroughly, or freeze it properly, then you are putting your life, and that of your dinner guests, on the line. Oh, and as a final note, if you’re a vegetarian like me and think you’re safe, you’d be wrong as well. Here’s some food for thought: vegetables are sometimes recalled due to potentially deadly bacterial contamination (including Salmonella and E. coli). These bacteria are sometimes identified to be from strains specific to the human gut. Now I wonder how they got there…
LEFT: MRI scan showing multiple cysticerci
within the brain.
gondii in a heart muscle fibre.