Avoiding foodborne illnesses during pregnancy

avoiding foodborne illnesses during pregnancy

During pregnancy, you and your growing baby are at an increased risk for foodborne illness. Learn how to eat safely during this time.

Pregnancy is an especially important time to nourish your body with good food. What you may not know is that there are some foods that can actually be dangerous to you and your growing baby.

During pregnancy, your immune system is weakened. Plus, your baby’s immune system is not fully developed. This makes it hard for both of you to fight off harmful foodborne bacteria. Foodborne illness should be taken seriously during pregnancy. It can lead to miscarriages, infections or even death to your unborn baby.

These serious foodborne germs and toxins include listeria, Toxoplasma, E. coli, salmonella and mercury. Follow these guidelines to help avoid these dangerous germs and ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy.

Avoid refrigerated, ready-to-eat foods and unpasteurized milk and milk products, such as:

  • Hot dogs and luncheon meats, unless they’re reheated until steaming hot.
  • 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).
  • Refrigerated patés or meat spreads.
  • Refrigerated smoked seafood is most often labeled as nova-style, lox, kippered, smoked or jerky. This includes salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna or mackerel. These types of fish should be eaten only if they are in a cooked dish, such as a casserole.
  • Raw (unpasteurized) milk or foods that contain unpasteurized milk.

Monitor fish consumption

Certain fish contain high levels of mercury, a metal that can be harmful to an unborn baby’s developing nervous system.

  • Avoid eating shark, tilefish, king mackerel and swordfish. These have the highest mercury levels.
  • Check before eating fish caught in local waters. If you’re not sure about the safety of a local fish, check with your local state health department.
  • Pregnant and nursing women may safely eat up to 12 ounces (about two servings) of seafood that is low in mercury per week. This includes salmon, cod, cooked shellfish, canned light tuna, pollock and catfish.
  • Albacore (“white”) tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. Experts recommend up to, but no more than, six ounces of albacore tuna per week.

Beware of raw or undercooked meat or eggs, and unwashed fruits and veggies.

  • Raw and undercooked meat. Use a food thermometer to make sure meat and poultry (including ground meats) are cooked to safe endpoint temperatures. Also make sure to wash knives, cutting boards and food preparation areas with hot, soapy water after they touch raw poultry, meat and seafood.
  • Foods containing raw or lightly cooked eggs. Avoid certain salad dressings, cookie and cake batters, sauces, unpasteurized eggnog and meringues.
  • Unwashed fruits and vegetables. Thoroughly rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water before eating.

Other considerations

  • Steer clear of unpasteurized juices, such as cider purchased from roadside stands, at farms or in stores. Check the label to be sure all juices are pasteurized.
  • Avoid raw vegetable sprouts, including alfalfa, clover, radish and mung bean.
  • Be cautious with herbal supplements and teas. Herbs are natural, but herbal products have not been studied enough to recommend them during pregnancy.

Finally, always wash your hands well with soap and warm running water:

  • Before handling food
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing a baby’s diaper
  • After touching animals
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