On Your Health

Check back to the INTEGRIS On Your Health blog for the latest health and wellness information for all Oklahomans, published three times a week.

Food Safety Tips for Pregnant Women

As a mom-to-be, what you eat affects your baby. At your first appointment, your OB-GYN will most likely mention a long list of foods to avoid. On top of that, you must be aware of how your food is prepared to avoid foodborne illnesses or food poisoning. In fact, pregnant women are 10 times more likely than other people to get food poisoning from listeria bacteria, which can be harmful to both you and the baby.

That’s a lot to think about, especially when you're busy growing a human. Since we are winding down February’s Prenatal Infection Prevention Month, we want to share food safety tips and information for you to reference whenever you need it.

Common types of food poisoning

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 million people get sick from foodborne illnesses in the U.S. each year. There are three types of common food poisoning bacteria you need to look out for—salmonella, listeria and E. coli.

Salmonella

A salmonella infection can be serious during pregnancy. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps and vomiting. Salmonella infections can also lead to dehydration and bacteria in the blood, which can cause meningitis. Salmonellosis can be passed to the baby during pregnancy, causing the baby to be receptive to meningitis, which could be life-threatening.

Listeria

Pregnant women and their newborns, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems are especially vulnerable to listeria bacteria. Pregnant women with a listeria infection can pass the infection to their baby or experience miscarriages, stillbirths and even preterm labor.

E. coli

Today, there’s not much evidence that E. coli causes major health risks during pregnancy. The main concern of E. coli infection is dehydration, though in rare cases severe complications may arise.

Now that you are aware of the risks of food poisoning during pregnancy, here’s what you can do to help prevent it. More specifically, we’re covering dairy, eggs, lunchmeats, seafood, meat and poultry.

Dairy and egg food safety during pregnancy

Unpasteurized milk and other dairy products should definitely be on your do not eat list. Raw milk that has not been pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria can present a serious risk for salmonella, E. coli, listeria, campylobacter and other bacteria. Pregnant women should also avoid unpasteurized cheeses, especially soft cheeses like Brie.

For eggs, make sure the yolks are fully cooked and the egg whites are firm. You should avoid home-made ice cream made with raw egg yolks and raw cookie dough – sorry mamas!

Pregnant women should avoid cold lunchmeats and delis

If you are pregnant, you should avoid delis with ham salad, chicken salad or seafood salad. These pre-made salads may contain listeria. Cold lunchmeats are often on the list of foods to avoid during pregnancy. However, most deli meats today are sprayed with a food additive that helps prevent listeria before packaging.

To be on the safe side, make your sandwich at home so you can re-heat lunchmeats, including hotdogs to at least 140 degrees to kill any bacteria.

Which fish is best for pregnant women?

Most pregnant women know that it is best to avoid raw seafood. Uncooked seafood such as raw sushi rolls, sashimi, ceviche and oysters may contain bacteria like listeria. Refrigerated smoked seafood, like smoked salmon or lox, also present a threat of listeria.

It’s important to know which types of fish have the highest levels of mercury to avoid exposure during pregnancy. Some of the best choices for fish include cod, catfish, salmon and canned tuna. Try to avoid wild-caught fish like swordfish, marlin or king mackerel, which have the highest levels of mercury.

Meat and poultry food safety during pregnancy

Most meat and poultry are completely safe to eat during your pregnancy, if they are fully cooked and hot. If you are re-heating, make sure you bring it up to the correct temperature and are not eating it cold.

A good rule to follow is the “clean, separate, cook and chill method” while preparing your food. Learn more about that here.

Proper food temperatures

While we are on the subject of proper food temperatures, foodsafety.gov provides a full chart of correct cooking temperatures for your proteins. However, here are some general guidelines you can follow.

  • Meat mixtures of ground beef, veal, pork and lamb - 160 degrees
  • Beef steaks, roasts and chops - 145 degrees
  • All poultry, including whole chickens - 165 degrees
  • Pork and Ham - 145 degrees
  • All pre-cooked or reheated meats - 140 degrees
  • Leftovers and casseroles - 165 degrees
  • Seafood (cook until flesh is opaque and easily separated with a fork) - 145 degrees

In general, if you aren’t sure if you should eat a certain food or not, it’s best to play it safe and wait until you can confirm. It may be useful to keep a list of foods to avoid in your phone. For up-to-date lists of food recalls, check out Food Safety News.

We are here to support you on your journey to motherhood. Our pregnancy care at INTEGRIS is designed to help you have the most positive experience possible, by keeping both the mother and baby happy and healthy.

Subscribe to the INTEGRIS On Your Health blog

Subscribe for weekly emails full of useful and interesting Oklahoma-centric health and wellness info, from the doctors and health experts at INTEGRIS.