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Foodborne Risks for Pregnant Women

Mothers-to-be should be aware of three specific foodborne risks. These risks can cause serious illness or death to the mother or unborn child. Follow these steps to help ensure a healthy pregnancy:

Listeria
Listeria is a harmful bacterium that can grow at refrigerator temperatures where most other foodborne bacteria do not. It causes an illness called listeriosis.

Listeria can be found in refrigerated, ready-to-eat foods and unpasteurized milk and milk products.

Safety tips:

  • Do not eat hot dogs and luncheon meats – unless they’re reheated until steaming hot.
  • Do not eat soft cheese, such as Feta, Brie, Camembert, “blue-veined cheeses,” “queso blanco,” “queso fresco,” and Panela – unless it’s labeled as made with pasteurized milk. Check the label.
  • Do not eat refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads.
  • Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood – unless it’s in a cooked dish, such as a casserole. (Refrigerated smoked seafood, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna, or mackerel, is most often labeled as “nova-style,” “lox,” “kippered,” “smoked,” or “jerky.” These types of fish are found in the refrigerator section or sold at deli counters of grocery stores and delicatessens.)
  • Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk or eat foods that contain unpasteurized milk.

Methylmercury
Methylmercury is a metal that can be found in certain fish. At high levels, it can be harmful to an unborn baby’s developing nervous system.

It can be found in large, long-lived fish, such as shark, tilefish, king mackerel, and swordfish.

Safety Tips:

  • Don’t eat shark, tilefish, king mackerel, and swordfish.
  • It’s okay to eat other cooked fish/seafood as long as a variety of other kinds are selected during pregnancy or while a woman is trying to become pregnant. She can eat up to 12 ounces (two average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish. Another commonly eaten fish, albacore (“white”) tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.

Toxoplasma
Toxoplasma is a harmful parasite. It causes an illness called toxoplasmosis that can be difficult to detect.

It can be found in raw and undercooked meat; unwashed fruits and vegetables; soil; dirty cat-litter boxes; and outdoor places where cat feces can be found.

Safety Tips:

  • If possible, have someone else change the litter box. If you have to clean it, wash your hands with soap and warm water afterwards.
  • Wear gloves when gardening or handling sand from a sandbox.
  • Don’t get a new cat while pregnant.
  • Cook meat thoroughly.

For More Information:

  • See your doctor or health-care provider if you have questions about foodborne illness.
  • FDA Food Information Line: 888-SAFE-FOOD.

Source: FDA/Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition

Lynn Snyder 

Lynn Snyder is senior director of communications for Ohio Farm Bureau.