Food Safety for Pregnant Women
When pregnant, a woman’s immune system is reduced. This places her and her unborn baby at increased risk of contracting the bacteria, viruses, and parasites that cause foodborne illness. Foodborne illnesses can be worse during pregnancy and may lead to miscarriage or premature delivery. Maternal foodborne illness can also lead to death or severe health problems in newborn babies. 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 to foods that they should and should not eat.
What You Can Do During Pregnancy
- Choose Your Seafood Carefully
- Avoid Raw Seafood
- Be Selective with Smoked Seafood
- Avoid Unpasteurized Juice or Cider
- Unpasteurized Milk is a No-No
- Avoid Soft Cheese & Cheese Made from Unpasteurized Milk
- Only Consume Cooked Eggs
- Avoid Premade Meat or Seafood Salad
- Tailor Your Homemade Ice Cream Recipe
- Do Not Eat Raw Sprouts
- Avoid Undercooked Meat & Poultry
- Reheat Hot Dogs & Luncheon Meats
- Be Selective with Meat Spreads or Pate
Food Poisoning During Pregnancy
|Foodborne Pathogen||Foodborne Illness’s Impact During Pregnancy|
|Toxoplasma gondii (toxoplasmosis)||
What You Can Do During Pregnancy
Choose Your Seafood Carefully
Fish and other seafood are excellent sources of protein and omega-3 fatty acids that are important for fetus development. According to the FDA, the high quality of protein, many minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, combined with mostly low levels of saturated fat found in fish can play an important role in the growth and development of a baby before birth. It is important for proper development to consume fish, but pregnant women should still avoid fish heavy in methylmercury. High levels of methylmercury act as a neurotoxin that can be harmful to the nervous system. A fetuses developing nervous system is particularly vulnerable.
The following fish potentially contain high levels of mercury that could harm the development of her baby’s nervous system and should be avoided:
- King Mackerel
- Tilefish (golden tilefish)
It is important for fetal development to avoid fish high in mercury, butpregnant women should not avoid fish all together. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a pregnant woman should try to consume up to 12 ounces a week of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. Seafood lower in mercury includes:
- Canned light tuna
While pregnant women can consume albacore tuna and tuna steaks, they should limit their tuna intake to 6 ounces a week. This is because some testing has shown that tuna can have high mercury levels that could lead to poor fetal development.
Avoid Raw Seafood
Raw seafood may contain parasites or bacteria including Listeria that can make a pregnant woman ill and could potentially harm her baby. All seafood dishes should be cooked to 145 °F. This means that she should avoid:
- Raw Oysters
- Raw Clams
- Raw Scallops
Be Selective with Smoked Seafood
Refrigerated smoked seafood presents a very real threat of Listeria. Refrigerated smoked seafood, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna, or mackerel are often labeled as:
- Or jerky.
Refrigerated smoked fish should be reheated to 165 °F before eating. It is okay to eat smoked seafood during pregnancy if it is canned, shelf stable or an ingredient in a casserole or other cooked dish
Avoid Unpasteurized Juice or Cider
Unpasteurized juice, even fresh squeezed juice, and cider can cause foodborne illness. In particular these beverages have been linked to outbreaks of E. coli. In addition, E. coli 0157:H7 infections have been associated with unpasteurized juice. This strain of E. coli can result in liver failure and death. Individuals with reduce immunity are particularly susceptible. To prevent E. coli 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.
Unpasteurized Milk is a No-No
Milk that has not been pasteurized may contain bacteria such as Campylobacter, E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella or Tuberculosis. To avoid getting these foodborne illnesses, drink only pasteurized milk.
Avoid Soft Cheese & Cheese Made from Unpasteurized Milk
Soft cheeses in particular tend to be made with unpasteurized milk. When pregnant, a woman should avoid the following cheeses that tend to be made with unpasteurized milk:
- Queso Blanco,
- And 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. If a pregnant woman wants to continue to eat soft cheese, she should make sure to check the label to ensure that the cheese is made from pasteurized milk. Pregnant woman should pay particular attention at farmers markets to make sure that fresh and soft cheeses are pasteurized.
Only Consume Cooked Eggs
Undercooked eggs may contain Salmonella. To safely consume eggs, cook them until the yolks are firm that way you know Salmonella has been destroyed. If you are making a casserole or other dish containing eggs, make sure the dish is cooked to a temperature of 160 °F. Foods that may contain raw eggs should be avoided. They are as follows:
- Raw batter
- Caesar salad dressing
- Eggs Benedict
- Homemade ice cream
- Freshly made or homemade hollandaise sauce
Any batter that contains raw eggs, such as cookie, cake or brownie batter, should not be consumed uncooked by pregnant women. The batter may contain Salmonella which can make a pregnant woman very sick. To safely consume these yummy treats, bake them thoroughly. No matter how tempting, DO NOT lick the spoon.
Avoid Premade Meat or Seafood Salad
When pregnant, a woman should not purchase premade ham salad, chicken salad, or seafood salad which may contain Listeria. These items are commonly found in delis. She can safely consume these yummy lunch items by making the salads at home and following the food safety basics of clean, separate, cook and chill.
Tailor Your Homemade Ice Cream Recipe
Homemade ice cream may contain uncooked eggs, which may contain Salmonella. To make homemade ice cream safer, use pasteurized shell eggs, a pasteurized egg product or a recipe with a cooked custard base.
Do Not Eat Raw Sprouts
Raw or undercooked sprouts, such as alfalfa, clover, mung bean, and radish may contain E. coli or Salmonella. If a pregnant woman would like to eat sprouts safely, she should cook them thoroughly.
Avoid Undercooked Meat & 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, Toxoplasma gondii.
According to the CDC, 50% of toxoplasmosis cases are believed to be caused by eating contaminated meat. The CDC recommends the following preventive measures to reduce the risk of contracting toxoplasmosis from meat consumption:
- 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, utensils, and hands with hot soapy water after contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood, or unwashed fruits or vegetables.
Reheat Hot Dogs & Luncheon Meats
While the label may say precooked on the following products, a pregnant woman should reheat these meats to steaming hot or 165 °F before eating. These meat items may contain Listeria and are unsafe to eat if they have not been thoroughly reheated.
- Hot dogs
- Luncheon meats
- Cold cuts
- Fermented or dry sausage
- Any other deli-style meat and poultry
Be Selective with Meat Spreads or Pate
Unpasteurized meat spreads or pate may contain Listeria. To consume these products safely when pregnant, eat canned versions. Do not eat refrigerated pates or meat spreads as they have a high likelihood of containing Listeria.
Chart of Foods to Avoid during Pregnancy
To ensure that you and your unborn baby are safe and healthy, keep this checklist handy.
Food Safety for Pregnant Women
A need-to-know guide to help you reduce your risk of foodborne illness.
Food Safety for Moms-To-Be (FDA)
Foodborne illness is a serious health risk for pregnant women and their unborn babies.
- Before You're Pregnant
Protect your unborn baby from methylmercury and toxoplasmosis. And take folic acid supplements!
- While You’re Pregnant
Protect your unborn baby from methylmercury, toxoplasmosis, listeria, and other foodborne illness.
- Safe Eats
A food-by-food guide to selecting, preparing, and handling foods safely throughout pregnancy.
- Highlights - Entertaining All Year
Keep yourself and your unborn baby safe from foodborne illness while entertaining.
Protect Your Baby and Yourself From Listeriosis (USDA)
If you are pregnant, you need to know what foods are safe to eat.
Download our FoodKeeper application to make sure you are storing food and beverages properly, and using them within recommended storage guidelines.