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Duck breast parasites have the yuck factor

A relative in Washington tells me some hunters have found ugly parasites in some of the breast meat of ducks they shot. Since we in Oregon are in the same flyway, is it safe to say that some of our ducks have parasites in their meat as well?

— Rich P., via email

The condition is called sarcocystosis, also known as "rice breast," and you're right to expect at least some of the ducks traveling through Southern Oregon along the Pacific Flyway to be carrying this parasite.

"They're fairly common," says Mark Vargas, the Rogue District wildlife biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The parasite that causes this condition can be found in various types of wild and domestic animals but it is rather common in waterfowl, especially waddling ducks.

Sometimes, the breasts have just a few of the white, rice-like cysts, Vargas says. Others are covered with them, rendering them inedible in the eyes of many.

They are, however, not a danger to people when properly cooked — just like any other game, fowl or fish you might take home.

"People don't like them," Vargas says. "It's kind of gross, to be honest with you."

An Oregon law that makes it illegal to waste game meat means throwing away a sacocystosis-laden duck is technically a wildlife violation. Vargas says any hunter who discovers this condition can turn the carcass over to ODFW biologists so it is not wasted.

Vargas says he once shot a few ducks that had rice breast.

"I popped them out, didn't tell my wife, cooked it and ate it," he says. "It's protein, but people don't like to eat bugs. That's just the way we are."

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.