Food safety during pregnancy is important in protecting the health of both mom and baby. Due to hormonal changes during pregnancy, a pregnant mama’s immune system can become compromised, leaving her at higher risk for contracting a foodborne illness(1). Read on to learn more about food safety during pregnancy.

What is Foodborne Illness?

Foodborne illness can be caused by eating food that has been contaminated by bacteria, viruses, or parasites, and is often referred to as food poisoning. The food can be contaminated at any time before eating or during handling (2). The main foodborne illness of concern during pregnancy is Listeria. Listeria is a bacterium that can cross the placenta and can cause issues for both mom and baby (2).

Symptoms of Foodborne Illness

There are many symptoms associated with foodborne illness. Some of the most common symptoms include (1,2):

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain and cramps
  • Fever and chills

Many of these symptoms are also associated with a normal pregnancy and the flu. This poses a greater risk for those who are pregnant, as the foodborne illness may not be identified (1). This is why food safety during pregnancy is so important – to avoid contracting a foodborne illness in the first place.

Risk of Foodborne Illness During Pregnancy

Foodborne illness poses a greater risk for those who are pregnant (2). If a mother contracts a foodborne illness within the first three months of pregnancy, this can result in a miscarriage. In later pregnancy, this can cause a baby to be born prematurely. In addition, foodborne illness could also result in a stillbirth or a baby that is born very sick (2). It is important to practice food safety during pregnancy to avoid encountering these issues.

Food Safety During Pregnancy

As mentioned, food safety during pregnancy is important to maintain the health of both mom and baby. Here are a few tips that can assist in promoting food safety (1,3):

  • Clean: Prior to cooking or eating wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water, ensure you use clean utensils and cookware, and wash all surfaces.
  • Cook: Cook all foods to a safe internal temperature. For example, cook poultry, eggs, shellfish, and leftovers to a minimum of 74°C.
  • Cross contamination: Try to avoid cross contamination of raw poultry, meat, fish or shellfish with cooked foods by using separate cutting boards, knives, and cooking utensils.
  • Chill: Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours of cooking, in a refrigerator that is 4°C or below. Cool hot food quickly in a shallow pan prior to covering and refrigerating.
  • Defrost: Defrost frozen foods safely by placing in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave.
  • Wash: Thoroughly wash fruits and vegetable with cold water, clean firm vegetables and fruit with a produce brush, and cut away any damaged or bruised areas.     

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

The are many foods that are safe to eat during pregnancy; however, there are some that are not. Here is a list of foods that are recommended to be avoided during pregnancy (1,2):

  • Raw or unpasteurized dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt).
  • Raw or undercooked meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs.
  • Fish high in mercury (ahi tuna, king mackerel, swordfish, shark, marlin, etc.).
  • Raw sprouts (alfalfa, clover, radish, mung bean).
  • Ready-to-eat deli meats, hot dogs, or ready prepared meat unless reheated until steaming and have an internal temperature of 74 C.
  • Unpasteurized fruit juice or cider.
  • Raw clams, oysters, scallops, ceviche, or shellfish.
  • Pre-made meat or seafood salad (crab dip or tuna salad).
  • Pre-packaged or prepared fruit and vegetables salads.
  • Refrigerated pâtés, meat spreads, or smoked seafood.

The Bottom Line 

Practicing good food safety during pregnancy is essential to keeping both mom and baby safe. Avoiding the foods above and adopting safe food handling will assist you in being successful in avoiding foodborne illness.

Looking for individualized nutrition recommendations for pregnancy?

Contact a Registered Dietitian today!

References

1. UnlockFood [Internet]. Canada: Dietitians of Canada; c2020 [updated 2019 Feb 7; cited 2020 Nov 30]. Food safety during pregnancy; [about 4 screens]. Available from: https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Pregnancy/Food-Safety-During-Pregnancy.aspx

2.  Government of Canada. Food safety for pregnant women [Internet]. Canada: Government of Canada; 2019 [revised 2019 Sept 27; cited 2020 Nov 30]. 5p. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-safety-vulnerable-populations/food-safety-pregnant-women.html

3.  Whitney, E., Rolfes, S.R., Hammond, G., & Piche, L.A. Understanding nutrition. 2nd ed. Toronto, ON: Nelson Education Ltd. 736p.

~Written by Hailey Boland Belaire