Infection with parasites through food

Parasites are organisms that reproduce with the help of a human, animal or plant. If they enter a person through food, they can make you ill. Pregnant women and people with reduced resistance must be especially careful not to become infected. By heating food, parasites are rendered harmless. Which parasites pose a danger to human health and how can you best protect yourself?

What a parasite is

A parasite is a life form that needs another life form (host), such as a plant, animal or human, in order to live itself. They live at the expense of the host and need it to reproduce. A parasite can live inside or outside the host. They can make a person sick through contaminated food. Examples of parasites are: lice, ticks, pinworms, tapeworms and the intestinal parasites Blastocystis hominis and Dientamoeba fragilis.

Types of parasites

Many people suffer from vague complaints and do not know that they are infected with a parasite. There are many types of parasites that we can ingest through our diet. Common infections are with the following organisms:

Trichinella spiralis

This is a roundworm that occurs in animals, but can also infect humans. You can become infected by eating meat. In the Netherlands there is little chance of becoming infected. In Eastern and Southern Europe there is a greater chance of becoming infected when eating undercooked meat. The meat contains larvae that enter the intestines.

Echinococcus multilocaris

This is also called the fox tapeworm. Infection is not that common and is almost only seen in foxes in the Netherlands and Belgium. This parasite occurs on self-picked forest fruits and mushrooms from East Groningen, South Limburg and the center and south of Europe.

Toxoplasma gondii

This is a single-celled microscopic parasite that can occur in raw meat, garden soil and in the litter box. The parasite can only reproduce in a feline.

Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium parvum

These parasites occur in surface water. It is mainly seen in tropical areas, but also occurs in our country. The drinking water in the Netherlands and Belgium is safe.


This small worm, only a few centimeters in size, can cause damage to the intestines. It can occur in herring, but also in other fish species such as tuna, wild salmon and mackerel. The parasite does not occur in farmed salmon.

Cyclospora cayatenensis

This parasite is a single-celled animal that enters the intestines through the mouth. Contamination can occur by eating unwashed fruit or vegetables. It mainly occurs on imported fruit and vegetables from tropical countries.

The effect on health

Parasites can multiply from the intestines and damage themselves further into the body. This can affect the brain, liver, muscles or other organs. Complaints that are common when infected with a parasite are: abdominal pain, diarrhea, flatulence, fatigue, fluid retention, fever, itching, muscle pain and flu-like symptoms. The complaints may be vague.

Risk groups

People with reduced resistance because, for example, they suffer from a disease such as HIV or chronic bronchitis, are a risk group. This also applies to small children and pregnant women. A parasite can even be fatal to the unborn child. That is why it is not recommended that a pregnant woman clean the litter box. There is a chance that she will become infected with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii.


Livestock that may come into contact with infected mice, rats, cats, birds and foxes are more at risk of being infected. Therefore, be careful when eating raw meat or fish. Make sure you heat meat thoroughly during cooking and wash fruit and vegetables before eating. After working in the garden or changing the litter box, wash your hands thoroughly. You can also follow the following nutritional advice:

  • Do not consume raw milk and raw milk products such as butter and soft cheese
  • When abroad, only drink from the tap if it has been boiled or is safe
  • Wash your hands before cooking food and after touching raw meat
  • Frozen meat for at least 2 days at -12 degrees will kill parasites
  • Maintain overall good hygiene

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