Foods & Pregnancy

What is Toxoplasma

Toxoplasma gondii is a protozoan parasite that can affect both animals and humans. Mammals, birds, reptiles and molluscs can be targets, however, this parasite manages to complete its life cycle only in felines, particularly cats, thus reaching a potentially harmful form: the oocysts. These are emitted into the external environment by the cat through its faeces, and can contaminate food.

An infection caused by Toxoplasma gives rise to the disease known as toxoplasmosis. The course of the disease in healthy people is usually asymptomatic or with simple flu-like symptoms. For weakened subjects and pregnant women, toxoplasmosis can have more serious consequences. Specifically, in pregnant women it may cause abortions, malformations or serious brain injuries of the foetus.

Subjects who come into contact with the parasite develop an immune response that protects them from subsequent contact. The subject who has already contracted toxoplasmosis is therefore immune to it for a lifetime.

toxoplasma parasitic protozoan toxoplasma on the dish

How the infection may occur

One possible route of infection is through contact with the ground or with cat faeces during gardening activities, garden care or during cleaning operations of the cat's litter box.

During these activities, the risk is coming into contact with infected materials and then bringing your hands into contact with your mouth.

Another possible route is the ingestion of raw or poorly washed fruits and vegetables, contaminated by oocysts.

However, the main route of transmission is the consumption of raw or undercooked meat. Muscle tissue cysts that originate from bradyzoites, another vital form of the Toxoplasma cycle in warm-blooded animals, may be present in meat.


In Europe it is estimated that about 50-80% of the population has come into contact with the parasite, although in recent years positive cases have decreased.

The decrease could be related to the general improvement of the hygienic and sanitary conditions of intensive livestock farming and food safety standards. This decrease in the presence of Toxoplasma in livestock farming has helped to reduce the risk created by meat consumption.

In Italy, about 60% of pregnant women have never come into contact with the parasite and are therefore at risk of contracting it at this delicate stage.

people in Europe who have already come into contact with Toxoplasma
pregnant women in Italy
at risk of toxoplasmosis
Fruits and vegetables

What foods to be careful with

The foods that are most often involved in cases of toxoplasmosis are:

  • raw or badly washed fruit and vegetables, in particular from the vegetable garden;
  • row or undercooked meat;
  • smoked meats and cured meat and sausages slightly seasoned (less than 30 days), especially if homemade.

Particular attention should be paid to ready-to-eat foods that may be subject to the following kinds of cross-contamination cross-contamination:

  • direct, by contact with other foods that carry the pathogen (raw meat, raw fish, unwashed fruits and vegetables),
  • indirect, by contact with contaminated and inadequately clean utensils or work surfaces.

What if I have a cat in the house?

Cats are the natural reservoir for Toxoplasma gondii, but they actually just play a marginal role in the direct transmission of parasitic disease. Removing domestic cats is an unnecessary measure.

However, for greater safety, you can take the following precautions:

  • feed the cat with cooked or canned food;
  • avoid contact with cat faeces;
  • avoids personally carrying out the cleaning operations of the litter box;
  • clean the litter and remove the sand from the box daily to prevent the development of any oocysts in the faeces, sanitise the container for at least 5 minutes with boiling water;
  • avoids stray cats, especially kittens, because they have a higher probability of being infected;
  • do not welcome new cats in your home during pregnancy.
cleaning cat litter
canned food for cats
cleaning cat litter

How to reduce the risk of toxoplasmosis

Unfortunately, it is not possible to recognise food contaminated by pathogenic microorganisms:
contaminated food do not show changes in color, smell, appearance or taste.

Click on the button below to read the rules on foods to avoid and behaviours to be adopted to reduce the risk of contracting diseases of microbiological origin transmitted by food.