Food Safety During Pregnancy

Tips on food safety for the pregnant woman

One of the first things to consider after conception is food safety for the pregnant woman. After all, healthy food is a fundamental aspect of life, but it's even more important when two people are counting on one diet. While it's true that you should choose foods according to their nutritional value, knowing which foods to avoid during pregnancy will be just as vital for a healthy pregnancy.

The first dietary guideline for pregnant women is to take in enough calories, vitamins and minerals, which may require some menu modification. However, certain foods that appear to be healthy additions to your pregnancy diet are much riskier than you think: a bout of food poisoning or food-borne infection could be unpleasant for the average adult, but it can be life-threatening for you and your baby. Learn which foods to avoid and specific guidelines to follow to ensure food safety during pregnancy.

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

Since the greatest threats to your health and your baby's are often too small to see, taking extra precautions when it comes to choosing ingredients and preparing dishes will help you sidestep serious illness. It is recommended that you avoid these foods when you are pregnant:

  • Raw and undercooked sprouts. You run the risk of getting E.coli or salmonella poisoning from raw and undercooked sprouts, including alfalfa, clovers, radishes and mung beans. While E. coli infection is never a pleasant experience, the diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever could lead to serious complications for a pregnant woman. In some cases, the infection could even be passed to the fetus, causing diarrhea, fever and possibly meningitis after birth.
  • Raw shellfish. Uncooked oysters and clams contain high levels of vibrio bacteria. These harmful microbes can lead to severe gastrointestinal illness, especially in pregnant women because of their suppressed immune systems. In the most serious cases, the vibrio organism will cause a skin infection as well as severe intestinal distress, and may even lead to miscarriage or developmental problems in the baby.
  • Store-made salads. Commercially prepared salads may contain listeria, E. coli and other contaminants, especially if the salad bar is close to other food preparation stations. Listeria is particularly dangerous in pregnancy, as it has been linked to miscarriage, stillbirth and severe infant illness. Moreover, healthy pregnant women are much more prone to contracting listeriosis than other healthy adults if they eat contaminated food, and the flu-like symptoms can more quickly progress into meningitis or life-threatening blood infection. Instead of taking the risk, prepare your own salads at home from fresh ingredients.
  • Unpasteurized juice and milk. High levels of various bacteria may be present in unpasteurized beverages. Salmonella, E. coli and listeria are the most prevalent illness-causing bacteria in unpasteurized beverages, so read labels carefully to ensure the drink has been pasteurized.
  • Raw cake mix and cookie dough. Since they are made with eggs, you run the risk of getting salmonella poisoning or toxoplasmosis from eating cookie dough and raw cake mix. The pain and stomach upset of salmonella infection can leave you feeling miserable and dehydrated, but the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis can be even more dangerous. There's a 50% chance of passing a toxoplasmosis infection to a fetus, which could cause mental retardation, seizures and vision problems in the newborn.
  • Soft cheeses. Listeria or E.coli poisoning could result from eating soft cheeses, such as camembert, brie, feta and Roquefort. This type of food poisoning during pregnancy can have a more dramatic impact on the health of your unborn baby than it would have on your own health, so be careful to avoid cheese sauces or casseroles if you don't know just what type of cheese went into it.

Mercury Exposure and Pregnancy

Because you need to carefully control mercury exposure during pregnancy, there are four kinds of fish you will need to avoid: king mackerel, shark, swordfish and tilefish (snapper). It's generally wise to limit your fish intake to a couple of servings per week, no matter what the type of fish, just to be on the safe side. Mercury is present in varying amounts in many different types of fish, including tuna and salmon.