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Food Safety: Are You Putting Your Unborn Child at Risk?

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The most exciting nine months in a woman’s life require extra attention to what she is eating and how the food is being prepared. During pregnancy, the immune system of an expectant mother and her developing baby are more susceptible to foodborne illness. Foodborne illness is any illness related to the consumption of food and water infected with microbes (bacteria, viruses). Specific foods consumed, poor food handling techniques, or consumption of raw products increase the risk of contracting foodborne illness.

Three microbes that every pregnant woman should be aware of include:

Listeria, Salmonella, and Toxoplasma.

  • Listeria monocytogenes causes Listeriosis and is linked to consumption of contaminated foods such as deli meats and soft cheeses.
  • Toxoplasmosis is caused by Toxoplasma gondii. Though the majority of infected mothers are asymptomatic or will only have mild symptoms, the consequences to the fetus are enormous. Exposure to infected animal or human feces (especially cat feces), improperly cooked meat products, or unwashed raw fruits and vegetables is commonly linked to this infection.
  • Salmonellosis is caused by Salmonella, and one specific type – Salmonella typhi – may be passed to the fetus.  It is transmitted to humans by eating foods contaminated with animal feces or by infected food handlers who do not wash their hands. Foods often involved include raw (unpasteurized) milk and raw milk products, cream desserts and fillings, raw or undercooked meat and poultry, raw or undercooked eggs, and raw sprouts (alfalfa, radish, and broccoli) and salads (chicken, tuna, potato).

Remember these standard safe food handling practices:

  • Wash hands often with hot soapy water, especially after using the bathroom, before and between handling different food items, and after touching animals
  • Wash raw fruits and vegetables thoroughly
  • Avoid cross-contamination by keeping uncooked meats separate from produce, cooked foods, and ready-to-eat foods
  • Thoroughly cook susceptible foods and always use a food thermometer to check temperatures
  • Keep refrigerator temperature below 40°F
  • Avoid unpasteurized foods
  • Observe ‘Use By’ dates
  • When in doubt, throw it out!
  • Know the proper temperatures for cooked meat.

Here is a guide to help choose safe foods during pregnancy:

Instead of…

Choose

Cold hot dogs, deli meats, and luncheon meats

Hot dogs, luncheon meats, and deli meats reheated to steaming hot

Undercooked meat and poultry

Fully cooked meat and poultry

Raw or undercooked seafood

Fully cooked seafood

Refrigerated smoked fish and precooked seafood such as shrimp, crab and deli seafood salads

Tuna, salmon, and crab meat in cans or pouches

Refrigerated pâtés and meat spreads

Canned pâtés and meat spreads

Raw sprouts

Fresh vegetables and cooked sprouts

Soft cheeses made from raw milk such as Feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined cheeses, queso fresco, queso blanco, and Panela

Hard cheeses, processed cheeses, cream cheese, cottage cheese, mozzarella, and soft cheeses made from pasteurized milk

Raw or undercooked eggs

Eggs that are cooked until the white and yolk are firm

Raw milk and milk products

Pasteurized milk and milk products

Learn more with the ABC’s of Growing a Healthy Baby and Safety Tips for Baby’s First Foods.



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About the Author

Navnidhee has a double master's degree in food and nutrition. She writers for publications such as Vegetarian Journal.


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