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UP scientists warn vs parasites in raw vegetables, seafood

Scientists from the University of the Philippines (UP) on Thursday warned the public about the risk of infectious parasites in vegetables and seafood sold in local markets.

The team of Cielo Emar Paraoan, Ren Mark Villanueva, and Marie Christine Obusan of the UP Diliman College of Science - Institute of Biology detected traces of the single-cell parasite Toxoplasma gondii (T.gondii) in oysters and vegetables.

The study "found that T. gondii is fairly common in vegetables and oysters that [were] sampled from local markets in Central Luzon. Among the vegetables tested were lettuce, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, and mung bean sprouts."

Contamination was detected in six of 60 vegetables (10%) sampled, and four of 44 oysters (9.09%) analyzed. Leafy vegetables were more contaminated than root vegetables.

According to a statement released Thursday by the UP College of Science, T. gondii is "one of the most infectious parasites in the world." Affecting nearly a third of the global population, T. gondii causes toxoplasmosis — an infection usually acquired from eating undercooked meat.

Food safety practices

While the UP College of Science called for caution against the parasite, it also reminded the public to observe simple food safety practices as protection: thoroughly wash and cook market-bought fresh produce.

"The most sustainable approach for reducing the risk of T. gondii exposure through the consumption of seafood should focus on reducing T. gondii contamination at its source, as well as mitigating the flow of contaminated runoff to water bodies,” the researchers said in their paper published in the October 2023 issue of the Philippine Journal of Science.

They said that the results emphasized the importance of adequately preparing fresh produce and seafood to remove all parasites in the raw products, as well as the need for better management of biological pollutants in the country.

Most people with toxoplasmosis do not exhibit any symptoms. However, some patients suffer from flu-like symptoms, with severe cases leading to brain inflammation and blurry vision.

Symptomatic individuals are advised to seek timely medical attention as treatments are available for the infection.

The UP scientists underscored that only a small sample size was tested, and that more studies with bigger sample sizes are needed in the future.  - VDV, GMA Integrated News