Teen Dies From Eating Undercooked Pork That Caused Brain Infection
An 18-year-old died in India after consuming undercooked pork. Experts reveal why it happened—and how to make sure it doesn't happen to you.
April 2, 2019
A recent report is serving as a reminder to fully cook meat of any kind before consuming it—especially as barbecue season steadily approaches.
The New England Journal of Medicine released a report last Thursday revealing an Indian teen lost his life after he ate undercooked pork. The dish resulted in a brain infection caused by a tapeworm.
The 18-year-old headed to a Faridabad hospital complaining of a myriad of symptoms, including pain in his right groin and swelling over his right eye. Magnetic resonance imaging of the patient's head showed "numerous well-defined cystic lesions throughout the cerebral cortex," which were consistent with a condition called neurocysticercosis. This disease, as Suzanne Dixon, registered dietitian with The Mesothelioma Center in Orlando, Florida, explains to Parents.com, results from the invasion of the pork tapeworm Taenia solium in the central nervous system and is a major public health concern in the developing world.
Luckily, such instances are not very common in the United States. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that fewer than 1,000 Americans are infected with a tapeworm each year. What's more, cysticercosis (tissue infection of pork tapeworm larval cysts) is extremely rare, according to Becky Kerkenbush, M.S., R.D., of the Wisconsin Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "It's usually caused by ingesting the pork tapeworm eggs directly from infected human fecal matter," she says.
To further relieve fears, it's quite likely that this situation would never have happened had the meat been properly cooked. "Parasites are pretty easy to destroy by cooking it to the right minimum internal cooking temperature," says Toby Amidor, R.D.N., author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen. "However, the food also needs to be handled correctly through the supply chain."
Eating rare or undercooked meat also increases the risk of other foodborne illnesses, such as E. coli, salmonella, and listeria. For this reason, it's best to avoid undercooked meat by making sure that the internal temperature for beef, lamb, and pork is 145 degrees and 165 degrees for poultry, explains Miriam Amselem, holistic nutritionist, fitness trainer, and yoga instructor. "This will limit the risk of the organisms and bacteria that cause illnesses," she says.
A meat thermometer can help ensure that your food is at a safe temperature to consume. Freezing your meat can also help, as just a couple days spent in the freezer will render any parasite harmless, according to Dixon.
For home cooked meals, she recommends the following safe food-handling steps in accordance with foodsafety.gov:
Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with plain soap and running water immediately after handling any raw meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and unwashed produce. After each use, wash surfaces, cutting boards, and utensils.
"Never use the same cutting board and knives for uncooked meat, poultry, and seafood and produce (vegetables and fruit)," says Dixon. "Many people have one cutting board for raw meat, poultry, and seafood and one for produce, so be sure to separate these foods in the refrigerator in clean, sealable bags."
Cook all foods to the proper temperature to kill illness-causing bacteria (145°F for all beef, pork, lamb, and veal; 160°F for all ground meat, such as hamburger and sausage; and 165°F for poultry).
The recommendation for refrigerating perishable foods is within one hour. "Never thaw frozen food on the counter—leave enough time to thaw in the refrigerator and place on a plate or pan to avoid any drips onto ready-to-eat items below," says Dixon.
Bottom line: While it's scary to imagine even the rare potential for food of any kind to cause harm, let alone death, it's important to remember that you have the power to protect yourself and your family with a myriad of safety precautions, namely ensuring that all food is cooked at the proper temperature.