3 foodborne risks every pregnant woman should know

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3 foodborne risks every pregnant woman should know

As a mom-to-be, there are 3 specific foodborne risks that you need to be aware of.

These risks can cause serious illness or death to you or your unborn child. Follow these steps to help ensure a healthy pregnancy.

  1. Listeria monocytogenes

What it is: A harmful bacterium that can grow at refrigerator temperatures where most other foodborne bacteria do not. It causes an illness called listeriosis.

Where it’s found: Refrigerated, ready-to-eat foods and unpasteurized milk and milk products.

How to prevent illness:

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.

  1. Methylmercury

What it 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.

Where it’s found: Large, long-lived fish, such as shark, tilefish, king mackerel, and swordfish.

How to prevent illness:

Don’t eat shark, tilefish, king mackerel, and swordfish. These fish can contain high levels of methylmercury.

It’s okay to eat other cooked fish/seafood if 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 (2 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 your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.

  1. Toxoplasma gondii

What it is: A harmful parasite. It causes an illness called toxoplasmosis that can be difficult to detect.

Where it’s found: Raw and undercooked meat; unwashed fruits and vegetables; contaminated water, soil; dirty cat-litter boxes; and outdoor places where cat feces can be found.

How to prevent illness: 

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: see the Apply the Heat (PDF | 20.3KB) chart for the proper temperatures.