A veggie worm could be lurking in your salad
There’s something that’s been worrying me for some time – what I call veggie worms or rather, tape worms, the official name for it being T. Solium.
It seems that whatever we do, we can still ingest the eggs of these worms. Frighteningly, these worms can grow to a foot or even a metre long, affect the brain and cause epilepsy and even blindness. We grew up with the idea that the dreaded tape worm could be had only if you ate undercooked pork, but now it’s common knowledge that the tape worm is found on the surface of vegetables and even fruits.
This problem was always endemic to India, it still is, but what’s worrying is that cases of tape worm infection from vegetarian sources have become a serious problem. Not surprising as we have a poor sanitation system and sewage is all over the place.
Vegetables grown in dirty water (contaminated with sewage) are liable to have T. Solium and there is no way of knowing where the vegetables you buy are coming from! In fact the chances are quite high that you are buying contaminated vegetables if you live in a city like Mumbai.
These tape worm eggs are pretty stubborn, and don’t get easily washed off. You need potassium permanganate to do the job. But how many of us wash our vegetables and fruits with potassium permanganate? What’s worse, I read that potassium permanganate is not a foolproof method. There was the case of a lady who only ate salads which had been washed with potassium permanganate, but she still got it. Maybe she didn’t do a proper job, but another possible explanation could be that as the eggs are pretty sticky, they did not come off. It says here that perhaps one should first lightly wash the vegetables with a light liquid detergent to reduce the surface tension and then use potassium permanganate. As I am not an expert on this, I don’t know, but why not be on the safe side?
I’m sounding as if I actually use potassium permanganate. I don’t. Sure, I wash all vegetables and fruits thoroughly and certain fruits like grapes (these are heavily contaminated with pesticide) I wash with a light liquid detergent and then soak for half an hour in clean water. But I have never done this with vegetables. From what I read on the net these are some of the various precautions one can take, some of which aren’t practical:
- Avoid all vegetable and fruit skins and do not eat raw leafy greens
- If you do want to eat this stuff, then lightly wash with liquid detergent…
- …and then clean with potassium permanganate…
- …and then with clean running water
- Cook everything thoroughly, even the coriander.
After this just pray that you have a good immune system in case there is a slip up!
The CNN Health library has these additional tips to prevent tapeworm infection:
- Disinfect your hands before eating or handling food.
- When traveling in endemic areas (India is one big endemic area!) wash and cook all fruits and vegetables with safe water before eating.
- Eliminate your livestock’s exposure to tapeworm eggs by properly disposing of animal and human feces.
- Thoroughly cook meat at temperatures of at least 150 F to kill tapeworm eggs or larvae.
- Freeze meat or fish for at least 12 hours to kill tapeworm eggs and larvae.
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked pork or beef.
Well, we are living at a time when the situation in India is pretty bad. There is sewage everywhere, particularly in the cities and vegetables are often grown on the outskirts of the cities. People use roads and fields as toilets and I know people who think that it the shit is manure! While it is better to be safe rather than sorry, I wonder how many of us can actually take these precautions on a daily basis.