If You’re Pregnant, It Might Be Wise to Brush Up on Food Safety
If you are pregnant, it’s essential to know that, although food safety is important for everyone, there are some special concerns for pregnant women and their unborn babies.
When a woman becomes pregnant, her body undergoes hormonal changes and some of them affect the immune system, the body’s natural response to “foreign invasion.” This makes her less able to fight off foodborne illness. Also, unborn babies do not yet have fully developed immune systems and they are especially vulnerable. That’s why pregnant women and unborn children are more at risk from diseases caused by Listeria monocytogenes bacteria and a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii.
- Listeria monocytogenes is found in many foods and can lead to a disease called “listeriosis.” Every year, some 1,600 Americans become ill with listeriosis – and 260 of those cases result in death. Pregnant women and their unborn children have a higher risk of developing listeriosis. About one in seven listeriosis cases happen during pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Listeriosis can cause miscarriage, premature delivery, serious sickness, or the death of a newborn.
- Toxoplasma gondii has numerous food sources, such as raw or undercooked meat, especially pork, lamb, or venison, and other foods that have had contact with raw meat. It can contaminate knives, utensils, and cutting boards. It is also found in cat feces, so litter boxes can be a source of the disease. Toxoplasmosis may only cause mild or no symptoms in pregnant women, but it can cause hearing loss, mental retardation, and blindness in their children.
The good news is that choosing and handling foods carefully can help prevent these and other foodborne illnesses.
Listeria is unusual because it can grow at refrigerator temperatures, while most other foodborne bacteria do not. Just because food is in the refrigerator doesn’t protect it from Listeria. So, to keep Listeria from multiplying to the point where it can infect you or your baby, use ready-to-eat, perishable foods, such as dairy, meat, poultry, seafood, and produce, as soon as possible.
Clean & Toss
- Clean your refrigerator regularly.
- Wipe up spills immediately.
- Clean the inside walls and shelves with hot water and a mild liquid dishwashing detergent; then rinse.
- Once a week, check expiration and "use by" dates, and throw out foods if the date has passed. Follow the recommended storage times for foods.
- Hot dogs, deli meats, and luncheon meats - unless they're reheated until steaming hot.
- Soft cheeses like Feta, Brie, and Camembert, "blue-veined cheeses," or "queso blanco," "queso fresco," or Panela - unless they're made with pasteurized milk. Make sure the label says, "Made with pasteurized milk." Studies show that pregnant Hispanic women are more vulnerable to listeriosis, most likely because they eat homemade soft cheese and other traditional foods made from unpasteurized milk.
- Refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads.
- Refrigerated smoked seafood - unless it's in a cooked dish, such as a casserole. (Refrigerated smoked seafood, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna, or mackerel is most often labeled as "nova-style," "lox," "kippered," "smoked," or "jerky." These types of fish are found in the refrigerator section or sold at deli counters of grocery stores and delicatessens.)
- Raw (unpasteurized) milk or foods that contain unpasteurized milk.
- Bonus tip: Don’t drink untreated drinking water, particularly when traveling in less-developed countries.
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water after touching soil, sand, raw meat, cat litter, or unwashed vegetables.
- Wash all cutting boards and knives thoroughly with soap and hot water after each use.
- Thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables before eating them, even those that are peeled.
- Separate raw meat from other foods in your grocery shopping cart and refrigerator, and while preparing and handling foods at home.
- Cook meat thoroughly. See Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures on this site. Use a food thermometer to check.
- Don't sample meat until it's cooked.
Good food handling habits are not hard and can protect you during pregnancy. For much more information, see Food Safety for Pregnant Women.