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Safe Eating During Pregnancy: Avoiding Foodborne Illnesses

Take care to prepare food properly, and know what foods to avoid when you’re expecting.

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Did you know that when you’re pregnant, your immune system is weakened? It is trying to protect two growing people, after all. This makes you more vulnerable to food poisoning, which can make you sick and sometimes transmit harmful germs to your baby.

Foodborne illness can be hard to spot. It has symptoms similar to the flu. You might be sick to your stomach, throw up or have diarrhea. You might have achy muscles or fever. And here’s the kicker: Because of the many types of germs, you could get sick within 20 minutes, or after a few days, or even weeks or months after eating a contaminated or risky food or drink.

If you show signs of food poisoning, see your doctor right away. It can do serious harm. Different types of food sickness can lead to dehydration, miscarriage or harm to your baby after birth. During pregnancy, some germs can cross the placenta and affect the unborn baby. This can cause premature labor and delivery, or even the death of the baby before a premature delivery.

The steps to preventing foodborne illness are the same, but they’re especially important when you’re pregnant. Here are some tips to help keep you and your baby safe from food poisoning.

  • Wash hands and food preparation areas often, before and after handling food. Proper hand-washing is key. Use warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds, scrubbing hands and fingernails thoroughly. Dry with a clean hand towel or paper towel.
  • Always wash hands after handling pets, changing a diaper or using the bathroom. Many germs are transmitted by microorganisms that are impossible to spot.
  • Handle raw foods and fresh foods separately, using different cutting boards and utensils if possible. Rinse fresh foods like fruits and vegetables thoroughly before cutting, eating or cooking. Even fruits like cantaloupe, with thick skins, can have bacteria on the outside, which can get into the fruit when you cut it.

Foods to avoid when pregnant

  • Raw or undercooked meats, eggs or seafood; do not eat sushi made with raw fish
  • Eggnog and homemade ice cream
  • Unpasteurized milk or foods with it as an ingredient (includes soft cheeses such as Brie, Camembert, feta, Roquefort, queso blanco and queso fresco)
  • Unpasteurized or fresh-squeezed juice or cider
  • Luncheon meats, deli meats or hot dogs, unless heated to steaming hot or 165 degrees F
  • Refrigerated meat spreads or refrigerated smoked seafood
  • Raw cookie dough or cake batter (don’t even lick the spoon!)
  • Fish high in mercury including shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish
  • Store-bought salads such as meat or seafood
  • Raw or undercooked sprouts such as bean, alfalfa, radish and clover

Food safety is always important, but it’s crucial when you’re pregnant. Take care for the health of you and your baby.

By Ginny Greene, Contributing Editor

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Food. While you’re pregnant — what is foodborne illness? Accessed: June 29, 2016.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. FAQ: Nutrition during pregnancy. Accessed: June 29, 2016.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Checklist of foods to avoid during pregnancy. Accessed: June 29, 2016.

Last Updated: June 29, 2016