The purpose of this article is to give you accurate information about food safety issues that you may encounter when serving wild game.
The topic for this issue is toxoplasmosis. This became a widely publicized problem after a restaurant in a Colorado ski resort was sued by a patron who claimed that she contracted toxoplasmosis after a meal that included red deer venison from New Zealand. Toxoplasmosis is caused by a parasitic organism that passes through several phases and cycles during the course of its life. The common element in the occurrence of toxo is the cat family. The organism passes through the feces of cats as part of its reproductive cycle. Animals such as deer or cattle pick up the organism by ingesting grass or other food that has been contaminated by cat feces. When the organism is ingested by the meat animal, it moves into the muscle tissue of the animal and may be then ingested by a person eating the meat. Obviously, the closer the proximity between cats and meat animals, the more potential there is for a meat animal to become contaminated. This would argue that domesticated animals such as cattle and farmed deer would be more likely to be contaminated with toxo than free ranging animals such as the ranched deer and antelope we harvest. The chances of being infected with toxo by eating beef are greater than they are of being infected by eating venison.
The reason this organism is little known is that it does not affect most of the people who are infected by it. In fact, it only affects women who are pregnant. The organism invades the fetus and can cause birth defects. There are probably several babies born with birth defects each year as a result of toxo.
How can pregnant women avoid this risk? They can refuse to consume red meat while pregnant, consume only meat which is cooked to a temperature high enough to kill the organism, or reduce the chances of ingesting the organism by eating meat from animals which have not had exposure to cats (such as our ranched deer and antelope).