Food-borne illness outbreaks are big news on prime-time TV, and odds are that you’ve had a case of food poisoning yourself. During pregnancy, you’re more susceptible to food-borne illness—and it can hurt your baby too. But, with some food safety knowledge and safer food handling, you can keep yourself and your baby healthy.
Food poisoning refers to more than just eating “bad” food. Most food-borne illness is spread through poor hand hygiene, keeping food at room temperature too long or not cooking it to a hot-enough temperature. Many illnesses are passed from hand-to-hand contact (especially in crowded places like cruise ships) and hand-to-food contact. For example, bacteria can be spread from infected food-handlers or workers who don’t wash their hands properly.
Also, some illness is spread through contaminated water that you might come into contact with. For example, at your local swimming pool, lake, the beach or through contaminated drinking water. No surprise: produce or seafood that comes into contact with water containing sewage can also cause serious illness. However, this is more of a problem in under- or undeveloped countries.
Illness-causing bacteria, viruses and even parasites—can be killed by cooking to a proper internal temperature. That includes common pathogens like Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli, Clostridium, Staph, Strep, Toxoplasma, Hepatitis A, Rotovirus and Norovirus. Some bacteria are hard to kill—and one bacteria—Listeria—can survive refrigeration. Let’s talk about two really bad “bugs” to get while pregnant.#Pregnant? Get important #FoodSafety advice here. bit.ly/2cj4W0v Click To Tweet
Kick these bad bugs to the curb with good food handling advice!
Listeria is a stubborn little bacteria that can grow and thrive in your fridge. You can get sick from any uncooked food you eat that’s been contaminated with bacteria. It’s even more likely to happen with Listeria. Listeriosis causes flu-like symptoms but if listeria is passed on to a fetus, it can cause you to have a miscarriage, premature birth, or give birth to a stillborn baby. Prevent Listeriosis by following these food safety tips from the CDC:
Meats and Deli Foods
- Do not eat hot dogs, luncheon meats, cold cuts, other deli meats (e.g., bologna), or fermented or dry sausages unless they are heated to an internal temperature of 165°F / 75°C or until steaming-hot just before serving.
- Avoid getting fluid from hot dog and lunch meat packages on other foods, utensils, and food preparation surfaces, and wash hands after handling hot dogs, luncheon meats, and deli meats.
- Do not eat refrigerated meat or vegetable pâté or meat spreads from a deli or meat counter or from the refrigerated section of a store, unless heated to steaming. Foods that do not need refrigeration, like canned or shelf-stable pâté and meat spreads, are safe to eat. Refrigerate after opening.
Milk and Cheeses
- Avoid raw (unpasteurized) milk and foods that are made with it.
- Soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, regardless of whether it’s made from cow, goat or sheep milk, are more likely to harbor Listeria.
- Only eat cheese with PASTEURIZED MILK in the ingredient list.
- Read why it’s important to avoid raw milk here.
- Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood, unless it is contained in a cooked dish, such as a casserole, or unless it is a canned or shelf-stable product.
- Refrigerated smoked seafood, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna, and mackerel, is most often labeled as “nova-style,” “lox,” “kippered,” “smoked,” or “jerky.” These fish are typically found in the refrigerator section or sold at seafood and deli counters of grocery stores and delicatessens and should be avoided, unless heated to steaming.
- Canned and shelf-stable packets of tuna, salmon, and other fish products are safe to eat.
Fruits & Veggies with a Hard Skin like Melon
- Wash hands before and after handling whole melons like cantaloupe.
- Scrub the surface of melons with a produce brush under running water. Sanitize brush after use.
- For melon that is not eaten right away, refrigerate promptly for no more than 7 days.
International Food Safety Advice
Canadian women are given similar eating advice regarding how to best avoid Listeria. Advice from other countries is slightly different: In Australia, pregnant women are advised to avoid soft white cheeses, like brie and feta, pâté, oysters, pre-packed salads and soft serve ice cream.. In the UK, women are told to avoid mold-ripened soft cheeses such as brie, camembert, chèvre (goats’ cheese) and others with a similar rind; soft blue-veined cheeses, such as Danish blue, gorgonzola and Roquefort, unless heated to steaming, and all types of pâté, including vegetable pâté.. In France, the advice is similar, with the addition of avoiding rillettes, foie gras, the crust of cheese, unpasteurized cheese, tarama (a fish roe salad) and raw germinated seeds.
Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite carried by cats and can also contaminate food. Toxoplasmosis may cause mild flu-like symptoms in pregnant women, but if the parasite is passed on to a fetus, it can cause preterm birth and stillbirth and can be the cause of learning, visual and hearing disabilities later in childhood. Toxoplasmosis can result from eating undercooked meat and poultry or unwashed fruits and vegetables, from cleaning a cat litter box, or from handling contaminated soil.
Severity of the disease may be reduced with antibiotics, but prevention is best:
- Avoid cleaning cat litter boxes if possible (or wear gloves.)
- Don’t let cats on eating or food preparation areas. (Good luck with that one!)
- Wash fruits and vegetables well, and cook meat and poultry thoroughly.
- Wear gloves when gardening, handling soil, sand or cat litter.
- If you have a sand box for children to play in, keep it covered to keep cats out.
- Wash your hands after handling animals, especially cats.
For more information on Toxoplasmosis, see the March of Dimes.
More pregnancy food safety advice at FoodSafety.gov.
Special eating tips for the holidays from the CDC.
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