Food Safety in Pregnancy
Some food products can lead to illness especially amongst susceptible groups of people including pregnant women and babies.
Contracting a food-borne illness in pregnancy can affect your baby’s health as well as your own.
In rare cases, the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes can cause the flu-like symptoms of listeriosis which can harm the unborn baby. Infection can cause miscarriage or premature birth. Foods that may harbour listeria include unpasteurised and mould-ripened cheeses like Brie and Camembert, blue veined cheeses like Stilton, Dolcelate, Roquefort and Danish Blue. It is also found in unpasteurised milk, patés (liver patés should be avoided during pregnancy anyway due to their high content of vitamin A). Avoid chilled ready-cooked foods, ready-prepared coleslaw and other salads and cooked meat like chicken (unless you are going to reheat it until piping hot). Make sure that all foods are within their ‘use-by’ date.
Although listeriosis is very rare, and normally fairly harmless, it’s important to take special precautions in pregnancy to avoid contracting the disease. The Listeria monocytogenes bacterium can also be picked up through direct contact with infected live animals such as sheep. Infection in pregnant women can result in miscarriage, stillbirth or severe illness in the newborn. Symptoms are flu-like and can include stomach problems.
Toxoplasmosis is a dangerous pregnancy infection caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. It usually has no ill effects, except in certain groups of people such as pregnant women, who transmit it to their babies. Toxoplasmosis is passed on through various food products (usually raw and undercooked meat or poultry and vegetables), soil, cat faeces and sheep, and can lead to miscarriage and stillbirth.
Toxoplasmosis can also seriously damage your baby by causing blindness, brain, liver and spleen damage and even death. Although it may have no symptoms, if they do occur they are usually mild and flu-like (including swelling of the lymph nodes), and should be reported to your doctor at once. To avoid toxoplasmosis:
- cook all meat and poultry thoroughly until they are no pink bits and no signs of blood. The parasite is killed with thorough cooking.
- avoid meats like Parma ham, which is served raw.
- wash fruit, vegetables and salads carefully to remove all traces of soil which may harbour the parasite. Also wash pre-washed salads
- always wear gloves when changing cat litter trays (or ask someone else to do it) because the micro-organism has been found in cat faeces. Wear gloves when gardening, too, to prevent coming into contact with soil that may contain cat faeces.
- goat’s milk can contain toxoplasmosis. If you drink goat’s milk, make sure it’s pasteurised or sterilised first.
Food poisoning as a result of salmonella infection can lead to severe gastric upset, vomiting and fever and is one of the commonest causes of food poisoning. The bacterium does not pass the placenta to the baby, but infection can cause harm to the baby as result of fever and very high temperatures in the mother.
Foods that may harbour salmonella are raw or undercooked poultry and soft or undercooked eggs and foods that contain them such as home-made mayonnaise and mousses. Avoid egg-containing ice cream and soft whip ice cream, too.