Foodborne Risks for Moms-to-Be

Reviewed by Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN
pregnant woman eating

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Handling food properly is essential to reduce the risk of food poisoning, especially during pregnancy. During pregnancy your immune system is weakened while your growing baby's immune system is still developing, making it much harder for both of you to fight off harmful pathogens. Therefore, food poisoning can cause serious or even life-threatening health problems for both mother and baby.

Pregnant women are especially susceptible to two specific foodborne risks:

  • Listeria: A harmful bacterium that can grow at refrigerator temperatures where most other bacteria do not grow. Listeria causes an illness called listeriosis, and pregnant woman are 10 times more likely than other healthy adults to get this illness. Listeria is found in refrigerated, ready-to-eat foods such as hot dogs and deli meats and unpasteurized, or raw milk and unpasteurized dairy products like soft cheeses. In order to reduce risk of Listeria, cook all foods to proper temperatures; reheat pre-cooked foods and deli meats to 165°F; avoid unpasteurized dairy products and smoked seafood; and thoroughly wash raw fruits and vegetables.
  • Toxoplasma: A harmful parasite that causes an illness called toxoplasmosis that can be difficult to detect. Toxoplasma can be found in raw and undercooked meat, unwashed fruits and vegetables, soil and dirty cat litter boxes and other places where cat feces can be found. For this reason, cook food to safe internal temperatures, freeze meat properly, wash and peel fruits and vegetables before eating, maintain clean cutting boards and always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. In addition, take extra caution and wear gloves when cleaning a cat litter box, gardening or handling sand from a sandbox. If possible, avoid getting a new cat while pregnant or have someone else clean the litter box.

In order to reduce these food poisoning risks, be sure to handle food properly and follow these four easy steps: 1) wash hands often; 2) keep ready-to-eat foods separate from raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs; 3) cook to proper internal temperatures; and 4) refrigerate promptly at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.

When preparing food, be sure to use a food thermometer to ensure that foods have been heated (or reheated) to a safe minimum internal temperature.

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