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A veggie worm could be lurking in your salad

March 28, 2008

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.

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28 Comments leave one →
  1. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    March 28, 2008 10:48 am

    Nita,

    This is both educative and frightening. And most of the “solutions” you mention run contrary to received wisdom on handling and processing foodstuffs (especially veg.) in a manner that retains their nutritive quality. So how does one eat healthy and stay healthy?

  2. March 28, 2008 1:07 pm

    I have stopped eating properly cooked pork also, just coz. of this Tape worm menace. Now, I think I have to stop eating veggies too…

    There must be a temperature range below and above what they dont survive etc., if you know anything about it.

    I somehow feel, that these things will increase in India as commercialization increases, and we start buying more tinned and canned food, since some bigger corporates do engage in malpractices like pushing some infected stuff in market too etc..Also, due to lack of animal farming(Cow, Buffalo, Pig, Goat,etc etc) not all stuff available in markets is from hygienic sources. Taking all this in view, Sea-Food is still better off like sea-water fishes, prawns etc.. Even Fresh water fishes have something fishy about them…since they breed on dung etc..

    and you know what, all these worms are viruses are still in their evolving stages, as biologists say, so we might need to buckle up for tougher times ahead.

  3. March 28, 2008 1:12 pm

    @vivek: I don’t think one can eat and stay healthy by his own will now. One can just eat and stay alive and can judge himself/herself healthy till nothing happens to him/her.

  4. March 28, 2008 1:19 pm

    & Sorry for the third comment.

    To all those imported packaged juice drinkers in India: None of the juice that gets expired etc. is disposed or bought back by companies. It stays in local warehouse where it is re-marked with new date and then again pushed in to market. Same is the case with soft-hard liquor like beers etc. which too have shelf lives approx. 6 months or less.

    & to all canned soft/hard drink drinkers: Please wash and wipe your cans with water and tissues thoroughly before drinking, coz. while stacked in warehouses, they usually get infected from rats’ urine etc. who live freely there.

    This is not related to this post, but somehow all cautions I take are coming into my mind now.

  5. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    March 28, 2008 1:54 pm

    @Anshul:

    Allow me to disillusion you about sea food. With the amount and kinds of pollution entering our seas, there’s no reason to repose faith in that food either. Remember the Minamata disaster of the 1950s in Japan.

    As a matter of fact you may be somewhat safer with fresh or brackish water fish. As long as they breed only on dung the chances of bioaccumulation of toxic substances, and their transmission along the food chain, is low.

    Remember, the major source of fish for Kolkata is (or at least was, until recently) the East Kolkata Wetlands, which collect a major part of that city’s sewage and, functioning as natural oxidation ponds, purify it to a degree adequate to render the catch from them safe to eat. Maybe Doc could confirm or reject this statement.

  6. March 28, 2008 3:11 pm

    ..it’s really frightening ,but the thing is we have heardabout it so many times but who has the time and inclination to do all this…what we do is resign to our fate….eat everything hoping that our good karma will save us…..

  7. March 28, 2008 4:59 pm

    Vivek, Anshul, Rahul, thanks.
    Anshul. I am not sure about the freezing part, but plan to find out some more about this. You are right about the lack of hygeine in tinned food…
    Vivek, my thoughts exactly. We keep being told about the necessity of eating raw food and then these are the risks!

  8. March 28, 2008 5:05 pm

    As you rightly said it is the immune system that takes care of every thing. If we go deep in to this subject, nothing is fit to eat.

  9. March 28, 2008 6:27 pm

    So much of information in your post. Really nice writing. This is something I heard firsttime. Thanks.

    >> nothing is fit to eat..

    I see so many heart attacks at so early age. People use to say it was due to mental imbalance.. now I really doubt!

    Thanks for reading Bharath. – Nita.

  10. March 28, 2008 8:15 pm

    Quite right you are, Nita! There is little we can do except hope that we don’t get unlucky. There is only so much you can control. About the rest, you stop worrying. If you are really anal about cleanliness, believe me, you will die of disgust and hunger. I was like this as a kid, and lost a lot of weight by shunning this or that food (even home food).
    Once you marry and learn to do the dishes and apply moisturising cream to the wife’s feet, you become a man, and eat whatever you get!😉

    • Suresh permalink
      February 28, 2010 3:47 pm

      Since when have real men started to apply moisteruizer on their wives feet!!!???!!!

  11. March 28, 2008 8:22 pm

    Well, I guess that explains why you got into the gastro business! And I must say your wife is a very lucky woman.🙂

  12. March 28, 2008 9:47 pm

    Nita,

    Thanks for the tips and thanks to others who offered them as well.

    Some kind of worm was responsible for making Leander Paes sick some time ago.People were surprised because he does not eat pork.Thanks to this article,I think I know the reason now.

    But what can we do?If we keep worrying about such things,we will all turn into pessimists🙂

  13. March 29, 2008 1:17 am

    @*: Point.

  14. March 29, 2008 11:46 am

    Nita, very informative post. We North Indians use a lot of raw coriander as garnish which is a major source of tape worm. Other than that cabbage is known to be a source of this problem. I personally know two persons who have suffered due to this problem here in Delhi. With the advent of Summer one needs to be extra cautious while eating raw vegetables.

  15. March 29, 2008 4:51 pm

    lol! can feel butterflies in my stomach😉

  16. March 29, 2008 9:26 pm

    wow this good info
    a friend had a tapeworm problem and god she had stomach aches
    i get pin worms from eating street food sometimes
    and there is no way that i can take precautions as i cant escape cheap quick on the go food

  17. March 29, 2008 10:08 pm

    Raj, I don’t think we will become pessimists. We are just taking a little more control into our own hands. complete control may not be possible but we still have to do what we can and so reduce the chances.

    Prerna, thanks. Coriander is used as a raw garnish even in Maharashtra and on almost all sabji’s and dals. Finely chopped coriander and grated coconut are a daily affair. But of late I have started adding the coriander just before cooking is over so that it gets thoroughly cooked. Some things like salad we can’t stop eating and for that I am going to some potassium p.🙂

    Vishesh, that’s the reason I didn’t add an image of the metre long tape worm!🙂

    prax, cheap on the go food is very healthy you know. I think it’s far healtheir that the so-called hotel food as it’s cooked in front of your eyes and it’s usually fresh. And one can always avoid salads!

  18. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    March 29, 2008 11:48 pm

    Nita, Vishesh,

    The first time I learnt about tapeworms was as a kid, when one of my “uncles” managed to ingest one with pork that he ate while on a trip to Turkey (I guess it was in the European part). Being a scientist, he stored the entire thing, after extraction segment by segment, in a lab bottle in formaldehyde or whatever it is that they store such things in. If I recall correctly, the total length came to something like 1.5 metres. The most scary thing that I vaguely remember is that, apparently, each of the segments, as long as it is in the intestine, remains live.

  19. March 30, 2008 1:25 am

    true nita no wonder it is staple diet
    but sadly most joints r not consistant and one cannot catch them each time at noon or early when the plates and food is at its cleanest

  20. March 31, 2008 4:26 pm

    Never fear an additional morcel of proteins which you can eat and digest, tape worm or round worm. People can even eat and digest snakes.

  21. April 1, 2008 8:02 pm

    Your informative article does one thing to me: it frightens me to a hilt. So, salad is good if it’s washed in liquid detergent, then soaked in Potassium permanganate… If I ask a thing like this in a hotel or in my own house, I’ll have to starve. Oh, thy name is tapeworm!!

    Nanda

    http://ramblingnanda.blogspot.com
    http://remixoforchid.blogspot.com

    There’s another thing you can do. Avoid salad in hotels and try to find out from where your household gets its vegetables from. If they are being grown in a known place which has a good sanitation, there’s no problem. – Nita.

  22. Rahul permalink
    April 17, 2008 4:17 am

    Thanks for showing us the picture. It’s scary. I had a severe headache yesterday early morning. I suspect it to be due to eating either Subway breakfast or office Burger for lunch which has some cabbage leaves. I dont know what to do. Must go to some doctor for some Cyst detection.
    Anyways,
    great article. I will be careful from now onwards atleast. Who knows the damage may already have been done. As someone said on the internet, I may have already started a hydra colony in my brain.
    I am scared. I love myself so much.

  23. Liv permalink
    July 30, 2008 3:11 pm

    Well…in the last year I have spent about 9 months in India as my boyfriend lives in Darjeeling, and I think I have picked up a worm when I first went there as I started to lose weight dramatically when I came home after my first visit. However, I won’t find out til 19th August.
    Since then I have eaten in all sorts of places in Assam and Kolkata, so I could have picked up a number! SCARY!!!! I need to find out quickly. Now I’m gonna be worried every time I go back there!

  24. Anjali Srivastva permalink
    August 25, 2008 12:25 pm

    Thanx for all that information. It is indeed very very scary. one of my uncles too suffer from this worm problem. He gets fits now due to this as some of them have migrated to his brain. I have a question…is pot. permagnate is 100% safe for usage…as some sites are telling that it can be poisonous too…in fact i read on one site that it is used for illegal abortions in some parts of country..

  25. wishtobeanon permalink
    August 25, 2008 7:58 pm

    Scary to hear news like this. I guess one way to ensure eating safe vegetables is to grow them in your home garden or in pots/containers. This strengthens my resolve to grow a good vegetable/fruit garden once I come back to India.

  26. amita permalink
    July 5, 2009 4:44 pm

    thxs for the frightening but great info. pl give details about KmNO4 usage…….. how much in how much water n for how long. it will be a great help. know anything about using sodium bicarb or even salt? tell tell

  27. rama hariharan permalink
    July 13, 2010 1:58 pm

    Very frightening indeed. But what are the tests that are done to find out the worm? Is it the stool test, blood test or CT scan of the brain. By reading this article, I wonder whether I would have got some of these worms, as I feel very tired and achy always.

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