Nobody wants to get sick from the food they eat. But especially during pregnancy, it’s important to prevent food poisoning.
Foodborne illness can lead to negative pregnancy outcomes like miscarriage and stillbirth. So, what can you do to prevent it?
In this guide, you’ll learn 12 tips to prevent food poisoning during pregnancy and which foods to avoid.
Symptoms of Food Poisoning While Pregnant
Food poisoning happens when you consume food that’s been contaminated with bacteria, like Salmonella or E. coli. Food can be contaminated during handling, storing or cooking. You can get food poisoning from the food you make at home or from a food establishment.
Symptoms of food poisoning while pregnant are similar to those others would experience, including:
- Stomach pain
Symptoms of food poisoning can start as early as a few hours after eating the food. It can also start as long as days or even weeks after. Symptoms may be mild or severe.
Most cases of food poisoning resolve on their own. However, symptoms are more likely to become severe and dangerous during pregnancy.
If you think you have food poisoning while pregnant, contact your doctor ASAP. They can order a blood test to determine whether you’re sick.
Why is Food Poisoning While Pregnant More Common?
For the general population, food poisoning isn’t uncommon. The CDC estimates that 8 million people get a foodborne illness each year. Of those, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.
During pregnancy, you have a bigger risk of getting food poisoning. Pregnant women are 10 times more likely than others to get Listeria infection, according to the CDC.
Why are you more susceptible to food poisoning while pregnant?
Research suggests that hormonal changes decrease the function of your immune system, making it more difficult for your body to fight off illnesses. And with a weak immune system, illnesses are harder to control and more likely to worsen.
Food Poisoning While Pregnant Is More Dangerous
Unfortunately, while food poisoning is more common during pregnancy, it’s also more dangerous.
Research suggests that pregnant women should be most concerned about Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella enterica because they might increase the chances of negative pregnancy outcomes.
Listeria can cause:
- Preterm labor
Listeria can also cross the placenta and infect your baby. Listeria in newborns can be serious and cause death.
Salmonellosis, caused by salmonella bacteria, can also cause:
- Meningitis (inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord)
- Reactive arthritis
- *You can also pass salmonellosis onto your baby. This can cause diarrhea and fever after birth as well as meningitis.
How to Prevent Food Poisoning While Pregnant
Remember that you can get food poisoning from food you order out or from food you buy from a grocery store and prepare at home.
Buy Frozen Food Last
Food that’s frozen, defrosted and refrozen is more likely to be contaminated with bacteria. To limit the chances of this happening during your shopping trip, buy frozen food last. This is one reason why the freezers are typically located at the end of the grocery store. If you have a long trip home, consider using a cooler bag.
Avoid Damaged Produce
When fruits and vegetables are damaged, it’s easier for microorganisms to burrow in, leading to food poisoning.
Safe Raw Meat Handling Practices
When you’re handling raw meat, keep in mind safety tips, including:
- Separate raw meat in grocery cart. When you’re grocery shopping, keep your raw meat away from other items. You can use separate bags to be safe.
- Store raw meat separately. When you’re putting your raw meat away, store it in a separate bin or space, away from other products.
- Always keep refrigerated. Put away raw meat immediately when you get home. Never leave raw meat out.
- Clean hands. Always clean your hands with warm water and soap before and after handling all food products, especially raw meat.
- Clean dishes and utensils. Carefully clean every dish and utensil that’s touched raw meat. Use your dishwasher or warm, soapy water.
- Use different cutting boards. To avoid transferring bacteria, use one cutting board for meat and one cutting board for vegetables.
Be Mindful of Meat Fridge and Freezer Guidelines
To ensure you don’t cook meat that has already gone bad, pay attention to the fridge and freezer guidelines for different meats. It’s best to defrost meat in the fridge. Also, avoid refreezing defrosted foods.
Wash Fruits and Vegetables
Wash fruits and vegetables before you eat them. All you need is running water. Gently scrub or use a scrub brush for vegetables such as carrots and potatoes. Soaking produce in your sink can transfer bacteria, so it’s best avoided.
Use a Thermometer
When you’re cooking meat, use a thermometer instead of guessing when it’s cooked through. Instant-read thermometers are accurate and convenient. Check the internal temperature of the thickest spot.
Check Reviews of New Restaurants
If you’re going to a new restaurant or fast-food place, have a quick peek at their online reviews. If the reviews are littered with stories of food poisoning, steer clear. Similarly, if the reviews comment on their lack of safe food handling practices, choose another establishment. During pregnancy, it’s best not to take the chances.
Put Takeout Leftovers Away Immediately
When you order takeout and there’s leftovers, place them in the fridge immediately. If you’ve left the takeout in your car for hours, throw it out instead of eating it.
Don’t Eat Cold Leftovers
It can be tempting to eat cold leftovers, but it increases the chances that your food will be contaminated. Reheating your food in the microwave or oven kills bacteria and can prevent food poisoning.
When you’re ordering takeout or are in a restaurant, keep in mind the foods you should avoid during pregnancy (detailed in the next section). Although you might normally order a sub, uncooked cold cuts can be a risk for food poisoning during pregnancy. Meat spreads served as appetizers are also best to avoid. Consider what unsafe products are hiding in dishes. For example, chocolate mousse is often made from raw eggs.
Avoid Convenience Store Ready-To-Eat Foods
Many of the ready-to-eat foods sold in gas stations and convenience stores pose a risk for food poisoning. Because you don’t know how long the food has been sitting out—and at what temperature—it’s best avoided during pregnancy.
Buffets may be a great way to fulfill all your pregnancy cravings at once, but food left out in the open has multiple opportunities to get contaminated. Other restaurant guests may use unsafe food handling practices, putting you at risk. Some foods, like salads, can’t be put under a hot lamp and the risk of bacteria grows the longer it’s sitting at room temperature.
8 Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy
We’ve shared some tips above on how to prevent food poisoning while pregnant. But part of prevention is knowing what foods to avoid during pregnancy. Some foods put you at higher risk for food poisoning than others.
Foods to avoid during pregnancy:
- Uncooked hotdogs. Always heat hotdogs until steaming!
- Deli-meats. Only eat deli meats if they’ve been reheated and are steaming hot! (Tip: Pop a few slices into the microwave!)
- Raw eggs. Avoid products with raw eggs including cookie dough, cake batter, sauces, etc. When you cook your eggs, cook until the yolk is firm.
- Raw seafood. Avoid sushi during pregnancy along with raw oysters, clams and mussels.
- Raw meat. Avoid raw meat dishes like carpaccio.
- Raw meat spreads. Avoid spreads that include uncooked meats like pâtés.
- Unpasteurized dairy products. Most products sold in North American stores are pasteurized but be careful of products sold at farmer’s markets, etc.
- Uncooked sprouts, like alfalfa or mung beans, are more likely to carry bacteria. Cook your sprouts instead.
Treatment for Food Poisoning While Pregnant
Treatment for food poisoning depends on how sick you are. Your doctor may recommend:
- No treatment. You may not need treatment if your food poisoning is mild and passes.
- Staying hydrated. Diarrhea and vomiting will deplete your fluids and may cause dehydration. To prevent this, drink plenty of fluids.
- Antibiotics may be prescribed to kill bacteria.
- Hospital hydration. If you become severely hydrated, you may need treatment in the hospital.
Summary: Food Poisoning While Pregnant
Food poisoning can cause diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Although it can affect anyone, you’re more likely to get it during pregnancy. Unfortunately, it’s also more dangerous during this time. Foodborne illness can lead to miscarriage and stillbirth. It can also be transferred onto your baby, causing problems after they’re born.
To prevent food poisoning while pregnant, there’s some safety tips you can keep in mind. Always ensure safe food handling practices when grocery shopping, preparing and cooking dishes. Always cook meat to a safe temperature and store it correctly. Also keep in mind foods that you should avoid, like uncooked sprouts and raw eggs.
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