Foodborne pathogens continue to pose a public health risk and can cause serious illness and significant outbreaks of disease in consumers. Toxoplasmosis is a zoonotic disease that occurs worldwide and is caused by the protozoan parasite, Toxoplasma gondii. The consumption of raw or undercooked infected meat, including pork, that contains infectious stages of T. gondii has been regarded as a major route of T. gondii transmission to humans. Given the occasional presence of T. gondii in pork meat, the frequent use of pork for products not intended to be cooked, such as dry-cured ham, presents a potential risk for its transmission to consumers. In this study, we investigated the viability of T. gondii in dry-cured whole hams processed using methods that were previously required for treatment of hams to inactivate Trichinella spiralis in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (9 CFR 318.10) and are now described in guidance documents from the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service. Infected pork hams were salted and cured for 33 days at 3°C and 85% ± 5% relative humidity (RH) and then were dried for up to 12 months at 12°C and 67.5% ± 2.5% RH. Inactivation of T. gondii was assessed in mouse bioassays and, serologically, by the modified agglutination test (MAT). Results showed that T. gondii bradyzoites were inactivated during the salting and curing step (33 days); no viable T. gondii was detected in the mouse bioassay and no evidence of serological conversion was detected by MAT in any of the mice inoculated with any of the samples tested during the drying step over the 12 months of the experiment. These results demonstrated that the approved protocols for production of dry-cured hams validated herein can inactivate T. gondii and lower the risk to consumers of this product.
No curing processes have been validated for the inactivation of T. gondii in hams.
Curing methods that inactivate T. gondii in hams would be helpful to producers.
Current results found no viable T. gondii in dry-cured hams over a 12-month course.
Salting and curing equalization was the most vital step in inactivating T. gondii.
New HACCP guidelines inactivate T. gondii in hams and lower risk to consumers.