Dutch researchers have advised freezing filet americain to reduce infection risk from the microscopic parasite Toxoplasma.
If filet americain, known in the United States as steak tartare, is frozen for a minimum of 48 hours at a temperature of minus 12 degrees, a Toxoplasma infection can be prevented. Steak tartare is made with raw ground meat, usually beef in the U.S. and sometimes horse or other meats in other countries.
A drop in Toxoplasma infections could lead to a decline in the disease burden of toxoplasmosis, a decrease in healthcare costs, costs of special education, and costs due to productivity losses, according to researchers from the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM).
Approximately 750 people are confirmed each year with toxoplasmosis and 50 percent of cases are attributed to eating meat products. In the Netherlands, toxoplasmosis ranks second in disease burden among foodborne pathogens with a cost-of-illness estimated at €45 million ($50 million) annually.
Costs of the intervention such as higher power consumption to cool the meat product, are much less than the revenues, according to the study published in the journal PLOS ONE. The social cost benefits are estimated at €10 million to €30 million per year ($11.2 million to $33 million), with the majority of this coming through improved quality of life because chronic effects of toxoplasmosis are avoided.
The parasite Toxoplasma gondii may cause toxoplasmosis in people after they eat raw meat products. It can have severe consequences in people with underlying illnesses such as cancer, Crohn’s disease, and in pregnant women. For the latter, toxoplasmosis can lead to miscarriages, premature births and congenital brain and eye disorders in the child.
Freeze meat or improve biosecurity
Researchers performed a Social Cost-Benefit Analysis to evaluate the net value of freezing meat intended for raw or undercooked consumption and improving biosecurity in pig farms for Dutch society.
Freezing meat was far more effective than the biosecurity intervention. Despite high freezing costs, freezing two meat products: steak tartare and mutton leg yielded net social benefits in the minimum and maximum scenario, ranging from €10.6 million to €31 million for steak tartare ($11.8 million to $34.6 million) and €0.6 million to €1.5 million for mutton leg ($0.7 million to $1.7 million).
Freezing costs are highest for beef steak at €0.6 to €4.8 million ($0.7 million to $5.4 million) in line with the volume consumed in the Netherlands.
The biosecurity intervention would result in net costs in all scenarios ranging from €1 million to €2.5 million ($1.1 million to $2.8 million), because of high intervention costs and limited benefits. The researchers said that could mean meat prices would rise for consumers.
Information from the Dutch meat industry revealed that 50 percent of all steak tartare is already produced from meat frozen previously. Consumers do not seem to have knowledge of this nor notice a difference between the two variants of the product.
In the Netherlands, toxoplasmosis prevention is targeted at education during pregnancy. However, these interventions do not prevent infections in the general population, whereby exposure via food — 56 percent of all symptomatic Toxoplasma gondii infections in the country — is considered to be the most important route of infection.
Estimated risk of infection per portion of steak tartare is low but it is eaten frequently in the Netherlands. Leg of mutton is eaten infrequently, but the risk of infection per portion is high because of the heating distribution that allows for the possibility of undercooking.
By freezing and thawing meat, additional steps are taken in the meat chain, with a risk of introducing more hazards with a negative impact on human health. However, freezing may also negatively impact the viability of other foodborne pathogens such as Campylobacter.
A main assumption by the researchers was that interventions would be imposed by law in the European Union and trade/market distortion could be ignored. In the Netherlands about 75 percent of all meat is exported, mostly to EU countries.
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