Immune system changes in pregnant women place the women themselves, their unborn children, and their newborns at increased risk of foodborne illness. These illnesses can be worse during pregnancy and may lead to miscarriage or premature delivery. Some foodborne illnesses, such as Listeria and Toxoplasma gondii, can infect the fetus even if the mother does not feel sick. This is why doctors provide pregnant women with specific guidelines about foods that they should and should not eat.
Advice Regarding Seafood
Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant—as well as breastfeeding mothers and parents of young children – should make informed choices when it comes to seafood. Fish is one source of high quality protein, minerals, and vitamins that are beneficial to overall health. However, it is important to choose fish that are safe to eat and offer health benefits. Follow FDA and EPA’s advice on eating fish by using this chart and a set of frequently asked questions and answers to choose healthy and safe options.
Cook seafood thoroughly: All seafood dishes should be cooked to 145°F. Raw seafood may contain parasites or bacteria, including Listeria, that can make pregnant women ill and could potentially harm their babies. This means that you should avoid:
- Raw Oysters
- Raw Clams
- Raw Scallops
Take care with smoked seafood: Refrigerated smoked seafood presents a very real threat of Listeria. Don’t eat refrigerated smoked seafood unless it’s in a cooked dish, such as a casserole, that reaches an internal temperature of 165°F to kill harmful germs.
Refrigerated smoked seafood, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna, or mackerel, are often labeled as:
It is OK to eat smoked seafood during pregnancy if it is canned, shelf stable or an ingredient in a casserole or other cooked dish.
Don’t Drink Unpasteurized Juice or Cider
Unpasteurized juice, even fresh-squeezed juice, and cider can cause foodborne illness. These beverages have been linked to outbreaks caused by E. coli and other harmful germs. To prevent infection, either choose a pasteurized version or bring unpasteurized juice or cider to a rolling boil and boil for at least 1 minute before drinking.
Avoid Raw Milk, Raw Milk Soft Cheeses, and Other Raw Milk Products
Raw milk is milk from any animal that has not been pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria. Raw milk, also called unpasteurized milk, may contain bacteria such as Campylobacter, E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella or the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. To avoid getting these foodborne illnesses, only consume pasteurized milk and milk products, including cheese.
Don’t eat the soft cheeses listed below unless they’re made with pasteurized milk. Make sure the label says “made with pasteurized milk.”
- Queso blanco
- Queso fresco
Cheese made with unpasteurized milk may contain E. coli or Listeria. Instead of eating soft cheese, eat hard cheese such as Cheddar or Swiss.
Pregnant woman should pay particular attention at farmers’ markets to make sure that fresh and soft cheeses are pasteurized.
Cook Eggs Thoroughly
Undercooked eggs may contain Salmonella. Cook eggs until the yolks and whites are firm to kill germs. If you are making a casserole or other dish containing eggs, make sure the dish is cooked to a temperature of 160°F. Make sure that foods that contain raw or lightly cooked eggs are made only with pasteurized eggs. Do not eat foods that may contain raw eggs, such as:
- Homemade eggnog
- Raw batter
- Homemade Caesar salad dressing
- Eggs Benedict
- Homemade ice cream
- Freshly made or homemade hollandaise sauce
Don’t Eat Premade Meat or Seafood Salad (Such as Deli Chicken or Tuna Salads)
Don’t buy or eat premade ham salad, chicken salad, or seafood salad which may contain Listeria. These items are commonly found in delis.
Do Not Eat Raw Sprouts
Raw or undercooked sprouts, such as alfalfa, clover, mung bean, and radish may contain E. coli or Salmonella. Cook sprouts thoroughly.
Avoid Undercooked Meat and Poultry
All meat and poultry should be thoroughly cooked before eating. A food thermometer should be used to ensure that the meat has reached the USDA-recommended safe minimum internal temperature. Visit minimum cooking temperatures for specific details.
Following the minimum recommend internal temperature is important because meat and poultry may contain E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, or Toxoplasma gondii.
CDC recommends the following preventive measures to reduce the risk of contracting toxoplasmosis from eating meat:
- Cook meat to the USDA-recommended minimum safe internal temperature.
- Freeze meat for several days at sub-zero (0 °F) temperatures before cooking to greatly reduce chance of infection.
- Wash cutting boards, dishes, counters and utensils with hot, soapy water after contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood, or unwashed fruits or vegetables.
- Wash hands with soap and water.
Reheat Hot Dogs and Luncheon Meats
Reheat these meats to steaming hot or 165°F before eating, even though the label says precooked. These meat items may contain Listeria and are unsafe to eat if they have not been thoroughly reheated.
- Hot dogs
- Luncheon (deli) meats
- Cold cuts
- Fermented or dry sausage
- Any other deli-style meat and poultry
Be Selective with Meat Spreads or Pâté
Do not eat refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads from a deli or meat counter, or from the refrigerated section of a store. They can contain Listeria. Meat spreads and pâté that do not need refrigeration before opening, such as products in cans, jars, or sealed pouches, are a safer choice. Refrigerate these foods after opening.
Don’t Eat Raw Dough
Unbaked (raw) dough or batter can make you sick. Flour hasn’t been treated to kill germs like E. coli. Raw eggs can contain Salmonella. Make sure batter is thoroughly baked or cooked before eating.
Food Safety for Pregnant Women (FDA)