Food Safety During Pregnancy
Because certain food can cause
health problems that may affect a developing
embryo - particularly during those vital early weeks of
pregnancy - you should
always take care to avoid food-borne infections in your preconception period as
you prepare for pregnancy. Two of the more dangerous infections that are known
to have adverse effects on your baby during pregnancy are listeriosis,
and toxoplasmosis. These can both be caught from food and animals but, with
care, can be avoided.
Doctors will advise pregnant women to stay away from,
fish like tuna, shark
and king mackerel as they are likely to contain high levels of mercury and are
never a good idea in high doses. Raw meat is another definite no-no, so steak
tartar and carpaccio is out for the duration. E coli is known to lurk in
undercooked hamburger meat, so that's another food you might want to stay away
from. Furthermore, experts say foods containing raw eggs can put you at risk for
salmonella and that, sadly, some soft cheeses, especially moldy and
unpasteurized ones are out of bounds.
This is caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. It is carried by many
animals, found in the feces of cats, and is also found in row meat and
unpasteurized milk. Toxoplasmosis is a common infection, but once you have had
it you usually become immune to it (about 30 percent of adults are immune). A
simple blood test before pregnancy will let you know if you carry the antibodies
that will protect you and your baby from toxoplasmosis.
It’s important to avoid this infection while you are planning to
when pregnant because treatment with antibiotics is difficult and the infection
can lead to blindness and brain damage in your baby. If you know you have the
antibodies, you should be safe from infection. However, it’s best to take
preventative measures. You should always wash your hands each time you handle a
cat or kitten. If possible, avoid touching cat litter or use gloves and wash
your hands afterward. Always empty litter trays within 24 hours as the parasite
is not active before this time. Be sure to always wash vegetables carefully
(especially those to be eaten raw), avoid drinking or cooking with unpasteurized
milk, and cook raw meat thoroughly.
This is caused by the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes. It can be
found in soil and water, and is carried by some animals, such as pregnant or
lambing sheep. Also found in many foods such as soft cheeses and pates, it is an
unusual bacteria because it can multiply in the low temperatures found in your
fridge. Heating foods to at least 160oF(70oC) for more
than two minutes will kill the bacteria.
Foods typically associated with listeriosis have a long shelf life and are
eaten without further cooking. Outbreaks have involved foods such as coleslaw,
Mexican-style soft cheeses, milk, pâté, pork tongue, hot dogs, processed meats
and deli salads. Examples of foods that may harbor this pathogen include unpasteurized milk, raw milk products, raw and smoked seafood, and any
ready-to-eat processed foods, such as hot dogs, luncheon meats or deli meats,
that have not been heated to proper temperatures before serving.
A bout of listeriosis is usually very mild, rather like having the flu, and
it can be treated with antibiotics. But if you are infected during pregnancy,
the bacteria can cross the placenta and seriously affect your baby, even
possibly causing miscarriage or stillbirth. Even though the bacteria is found
widely in food, it doesn’t often cause problems in pregnancy and is less common
than toxoplasmosis. Despite its rarity, you should try to avoid it, especially
around the time of conception and pregnancy.
To reduce the risk of listeriosis, cut out soft cheeses like Brie or
Camembert and blue-veined varieties. Avoid pate, which is often a carrier of the
infection. You should also be very careful when eating ready-made "cook/chill"
meals, reheating them thoroughly for at least two minutes so that they are
Salmonellosis is a common form of food infection that may result when foods
containing Salmonella bacteria are eaten. The bacteria are spread through
direct or indirect contact with the intestinal contents or waste of animals,
including humans. Salmonella bacteria do not grow at refrigerator
or freezer temperatures and are easily destroyed by heating foods to 165 degrees
Symptoms of salmonellosis include
headache, diarrhea, abdominal pain,
chills, fever and vomiting; these usually appear within 12 to 36 hours after
eating the contaminated food. Foods most often involved include raw (unpasteurized)
milk and raw milk products, raw or undercooked meat and poultry, raw or
undercooked eggs, raw sprouts (alfalfa, clover, radish, broccoli), salads
(including chicken, tuna, potato), and cream desserts and fillings.
To avoid infection from Salmonella bacteria, pregnant women should
follow general safe food handling practices, including washing hands often with
hot, soapy water, especially after using the bathroom and before and after
handling food. Hands and working surfaces should be thoroughly washed after
contact with raw meat, fish, poultry, and foods that will not undergo further
cooking. Fresh fruits and vegetables should be rinsed well before eating, and
food such as raw milk and raw milk products, raw or undercooked eggs, raw
sprouts, raw or undercooked meat and poultry, and unpasteurized fruit juices
should be avoided.
Pregnant women are not at an increased risk for getting salmonellosis;
however, one type of Salmonella bacteria, called Salmonella typhi
may be passed to the fetus.
Consuming food or water that contains the bacteria Campylobacter jejuni
causes an infection called campylobacteriosis. C. jejuni is found in the
intestinal tracts of animals (especially chickens) and in untreated water. This
organism thrives in a reduced oxygen environment and is inhibited by acid, salt
and drying. C. jejuni also is easily destroyed by heat (120 degrees F).
Although pregnant women are not at an increased risk of campylobacteriosis,
infection from this bacteria can result in transmission to the placenta.
Consequences of fetal infection include abortion, stillbirth or preterm
delivery. Symptoms usually appear within 2 to 5 days after eating the
contaminated food and include fever, stomach cramps, muscle pain, diarrhea,
nausea and vomiting. Infection from C. jejuni may be treated with
C. jejuni is most often found in raw (unpasteurized) milk and raw milk
products, raw or undercooked meat and poultry, and raw shellfish. To avoid
campylobacteriosis, pregnant women are advised to consume only pasteurized milk
and milk products and to thoroughly cook meat, poultry and shellfish. Hands,
surfaces, cutting boards and utensils that come in contact with raw meat,
poultry or fish should be washed well with hot, soapy water.
Guidelines to prevent food-borne infections
To avoid listeriosis, toxoplasmosis, and other food-borne infections, follow
these simple guidelines:
Use a food thermometer to make sure meat, poultry (including ground meats)
and eggs are cooked to safe endpoint temperatures. Use a thermometer to make
sure leftovers are reheated to 165 degrees F.
Cut out liver, pate, soft cheeses, foods made with raw egg and raw or
undercooked meat from your diet.
Always keep your hands, utensils, and work surfaces clean when preparing
Use a separate chopping board for preparing raw meat. Scrub the board
vigorously with soap and hot water after each use.
Cook raw foods thoroughly - especially meat, eggs, shellfish, and legumes.
Keep the temperature of your refrigerator below 32oF (4oC)
and store raw meat on the bottom shelf to prevent juices dripping onto other
foodstuffs. All foods in the fridge should also be covered.
Use an insulated container to transport frozen foods from the store to
Always buy and eat food before the “sell by” and “use by” dates listed on
Always follow manufacturers’ instructions when defrosting and reheating
Make sure food is reheated to steaming hot for at least two minutes, and
throw away any leftover reheated food.
Do not refreeze defrosted food.
Wash your hands after handling animals.
Wash pet utensils separately from your own utensils.
Avoid Foods from Unsafe Sources
Use the following guide to help choose safe foods during pregnancy, while
avoiding foods from unsafe sources.
Cold hot dogs, deli meats and luncheon meats
Hot dogs, luncheon meats and deli meats reheated
to steaming hot
Undercooked meat and poultry
Fully cooked meat and poultry
Raw or undercooked seafood
Fully cooked seafood
Refrigerated smoked fish and precooked seafood
such as shrimp, crab and deli seafood salads
Tuna, salmon and crab meat in cans or pouches
Refrigerated pâtés and meat spreads
Canned pates and meat spreads
Fresh vegetables (well-cleaned) and cooked
Soft cheeses made from raw milk such as Feta, Brie,
Camembert, blue-veined cheeses, queso fresco, queso blanco and Panela
Hard cheeses, processed cheeses, cream cheese, cottage
cheese, mozzarella, and soft cheeses made from pasteurized milk
Raw or undercooked eggs
Eggs that are cooked until the white and yolk
Raw milk and milk products
Pasteurized milk and milk products
Unpasteurized juice (May be called "fresh squeezed" or "chilled")
Frozen concentrate, canned juices and refrigerated juices
that are labeled as pasteurized
Dated 02 June 2014