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Holiday Food Safety for Pregnant Women

The holiday season is full of culinary treats. During this time, pregnant women should be especially diligent about food safety. Around the holidays, some seemingly safe foods can have adverse effects on the health of mother and child, so we put together these easy-to-follow tips.

The Risks to Your Family

When pregnant, a woman’s immune system is weaker. This places the mother and her unborn baby at increased risk of contracting bacteria, viruses, and parasites that cause foodborne illness, including Listeria monocytogenes and Toxoplasma gondii.

Listeria monocytogenes

Holiday food safety for pregnant womenListeria monocytogenes is a harmful bacterium found in foods such as lunch meats, cold cuts, and raw milk. It can grow slowly at refrigerator temperatures and can lead to a disease called Listeriosis Exit disclaimer, which can cause miscarriages, premature delivery, serious sickness, or death of a newborn baby.

Toxoplasma gondii

Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite found in numerous food sources, as well as in dirty cat litter boxes and other areas where cat feces can be found. Toxoplasmosis can cause hearing loss, intellectual disabilities, and blindness in children.

What Not to Eat When You Are Expecting

Skip the raw eggnog and unpasteurized apple cider

Food blogs and recipe websites are usually abuzz with a bounty of eggnog and apple cider recipes, but don't rush to the punch bowl too soon. Some eggnog may contain raw egg and unpasteurized milk, which could contain Salmonella. This can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pains. With raw cider, there is a danger of E. coli bacteria, which can lead to stomach cramps, diarrhea, or death. Such beverages pose a risk to you and your pregnancy.

Avoid downloading these apps onto your plate: Soft cheeses & cold cuts

Though tempting, avoid soft cheeses like brie, camembert, blue cheese, and cheeses that may have been made with unpasteurized milk like ‘queso fresco’ and feta. Instead, opt for classic cheeses like cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella, or cream cheese. If cold cuts are necessary, they should first be heated to steaming hot or to a minimum temperature of 165 ºF.

Christmas ceviche

Raw fish dishes pose a higher food safety risk because they may contain parasites or bacteria. In some Hispanic cultures these dishes may be served at Christmas, but it is best to stay away from them year-round while pregnant. Instead, be sure that any fish dishes are cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 ºF.

Risky meats, meat products, and undercooked meats

Some traditions call for chitterlings or ‘chitlins’ around the holidays and this dish poses a greater risk of foodborne illness to expectant mothers, specifically from the bacteria Yersinia enterocolitica. Since preparing ‘chitlins’ can be messy and labor intensive, it can increase the risk of cross contamination in the kitchen. Without safe preparation and careful clean up, bacteria left on the counter top or in the sink can contaminate other foods.

We're Here for You

If you have questions about holiday eats (or any eats for that matter) while pregnant, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline. Food safety experts are available to answer consumer questions in English and Spanish about the safe storage, handling, and preparation of food year-round, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST.
You can also chat live with experts at AskKaren.gov Exit disclaimer.


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Posted in: Baby/Pregnancy | HolidaysTagged: Food Safety | Holiday