The prevalence of viable Toxoplasma gondii was determined in 6,282 samples (2,094 each of beef, chicken, and pork) obtained from 698 retail meat stores from 28 major geographic areas of the United States. Each sample consisted of a minimum of 1 kg of meat purchased from the retail meat case. To detect viable T. gondii, meat samples were fed to T. gondii-free cats and feces of cats were examined for oocyst shedding. Initially, 100 g of meat from 6 individual samples of a given species were pooled (total, 600 g), fed to a cat over a period of 3 days, and feces were examined for oocysts for 14 days; the remaining meat samples were stored at 4 C for 14 days (until results of the initial cat fecal examination were known). When a cat fed pooled samples had shed oocysts, 6 individual meat samples from each pool were bioassayed for T. gondii in cats and mice. Toxoplasma gondii isolates were then genetically characterized using the SAG2 locus and 5 hypervariable microsatellite loci. In all, 7 cats fed pooled pork samples shed oocysts. Toxoplasma gondii oocysts were detected microscopically in the feces of 2 of the cats; 1 isolate was Type II and the second was Type III. Analyzed individually, T. gondii was detected by bioassay in 3 of the 12 associated samples with genetic data indicating T. gondii isolates present in 2. The remaining 5 pooled pork samples had so few oocysts that they were not initially detected by microscopic examination, but rather by mouse bioassay of cat feces. Two were Type I, 1 was Type II, and 2 were Type III. None of the cats fed chicken or beef samples shed oocysts. Overall, the prevalence of viable T. gondii in retail meat was very low. Nevertheless, consumers, especially pregnant women, should be aware that they can acquire T. gondii infection from ingestion of undercooked meat, and in particular, pork. Cooking meat to an internal temperature of 66 C kills T. gondii.
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