Organic Meat May Carry Higher Parasite Risk

While there are a lot of reasons to buy organic, recent research indicates that organic meat may carry a higher risk of parasites.

According to an article in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, "the new trend in the production of free-range, organically raised meat could increase the risk of Toxoplasma gondii contamination of meat."

According to the study, free-range chickens are 17 to 100 percent more likely to carry toxoplasmosis parasites than chickens raised indoors.

While it may be more likely in organic meat, because giving pigs and chickens access to less confined, more animal-friendly environments means they are more likely to come in contact with parasites, toxoplasmosis can come from conventionally raised meats or unwashed vegetables as well. The major culprit, according to My Health News Daily, is undercooking, and the foods with the greatest chance of carrying toxoplasmosis include "raw ground beef or rare lamb; unpasteurized goat's milk' locally produced cured, dried or smoked meat; and raw oysters, clams or mussels."

Toxoplasmosis also comes from cat feces, and as many as one in five people may carry the parasites in the U.S., but few people have symptoms. It's mainly a threat to pregnant women and people with weak immune systems.

The researchers say the best defense against the parasite is cooking, and pork, lamb, veal or beef should be cooked to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, while ground meat and wild game should be cooked to 160. They specify that microwave cooking might not kill the parasites.

According to Douglas Powell, professor of food safety at Kansas State University, there's no perfect solution that will allow people to avoid parasites.

"Whatever food-production system we come up with, some 'bugs' will find a way to adapt and flourish. So the key is continual vigilance," he said.