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How to Avoid Food Poisoning During Pregnancy

By Susan Zogheib, MHS, RD, LDN

Food poisoning occurs when people eat or drink harmful microorganisms (bacteria, parasites, viruses), usually in contaminated food or drinking water. Food poisoning is especially important to avoid during pregnancy because the immune system is weakened, which can have serious consequences.

The most common food-borne organisms and contaminants include E. coli 0157:H7, methylmercury, toxoplasma, salmonella and listeria. Once you’ve contracted food poisoning, symptoms can appear in as little as 20 minutes or as long as six weeks, depending on the cause of the food poisoning. Symptoms of food poisoning vary and can include vomiting, diarrhea, chills, upset stomach, fever, headache, and body aches. Among pregnant women, food poisoning can also cause serious health problems including miscarriage, premature delivery and even death. To decrease your chances of contracting food poisoning, here are a few simple tips:

  • Avoid all raw and undercooked seafood such as fresh tuna, king mackerel, red snapper, and tilefish. These types of fish have high levels of mercury. Salmon, cod, tilapia, and tuna fish are acceptable. However, limit your intake to 12 ounces per week. Your palm will measure about a 3-ounce portion size.
  • Avoid raw eggs, which can be found in homemade mayonnaise, eggnog, Hollandaise sauce, mousse, and Caesar salad.
  • Thoroughly wash raw fruits and vegetables before eating them.
  • Avoid lunch meats, cold cuts, or smoked or pickled fish unless they are cooked until they are steaming hot.
  • Avoid soft cheese made from unpasteurized milk: feta, brie, Camembert, “blue-veined cheeses,” queso blanco, queso fresco, or Panela.
  • Cook meats thoroughly so there is no trace of pink or blood.
  • Don’t eat leftover food more than two days old.
  • Avoid drinking untreated water.

It is very important to take food safety serious in pregnancy. In addition to the tips above, here are four simple rules to help reduce your risk:

  1. CLEAN. Wash hands thoroughly with water and soap before and after handling food.
  2. SEPARATE. Don’t cross-contaminate. Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from ready-to-eat foods.
  3. COOK. Cook food thoroughly by using a thermometer, the danger zone at which bacteria can grow is between 40 °F and 140 °F.
  4. CHILL. The thermometer in your refrigerator should read 40 °F (4°C) or below and the freezer 0° F (-18°C). Refrigerate food within 2 hours.

Reviewed by Dr. Jen Lincoln, November 2018

Sources:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Be Food Safe: Protect Yourself from Food Poisoning. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Food Safety for Moms-to-Be. United States Department of Health and Human Services
  • Food Safety for Pregnant Women.

 

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