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Listeria — why it’s dangerous during pregnancy

Listeria — why it’s dangerous during pregnancy

When you’re pregnant, you need to take extra precautions when it comes to your health. Some illnesses and infections can cross the placenta, leading to potential complications for both you and your baby.

One such example is listeriosis, an infection caused by Listeria bacteria. This bacteria is found naturally in the environment. Healthy people who eat Listeria-contaminated food may not get sick at all. But, listeriosis is more likely to affect infants, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems — including pregnant women. If you eat food contaminated with Listeria during pregnancy, it could cause serious health problems for your baby and possibly even stillbirth.

Many common foods have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria, so it’s best to avoid them entirely when you’re pregnant, or cook them very thoroughly to kill the bacteria. Many foods may look and smell fine, so you have no way of knowing if they’re actually safe. Here are the things you can do to avoid possible listeriosis during pregnancy:

  • Don’t eat cold deli meats, lunch meats, or hot dogs unless they are cooked to steaming hot (165 degrees internal temperature). Wash your hands and clean cooking surfaces after handling any of these foods.
  • Don’t eat pre-packaged salads that have cold meats and eggs on them.
  • Avoid cheeses that do not clearly state they are made from pasteurized milk. If you’re not sure, skip it. This includes soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, and Camembert, Mexican-style cheese such as queso blanco, queso fresco, or panela, and blue cheese varieties. Most “hard” cheeses like cheddar, mozzarella, American, ricotta, parmesan, and cottage cheese are fine.
  • Do not drink raw or unpasteurized milk, and avoid raw or undercooked eggs. Note: some restaurant Caesar salad dressings contain raw eggs; ask your server about this if you’re eating out. Avoid sunny-side-up eggs or runny yolks.
  • Don’t eat food that’s been sitting at room temperature for more than two hours (or one hour if it’s a hot day).
  • Skip the refrigerated smoked seafood sold at deli counters and in grocery stores. Canned, shelf-stable fish like tuna or canned salmon is fine, but ask your obstetrician about recommendations for weekly fish consumption.
  • Don’t eat refrigerated meat spreads or pâté. Canned, shelf-stable varieties are okay.
  • Make sure your refrigerator is kept between 35 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit for maximum safety.
  • Thoroughly wash all fresh produce before eating.

Although this seems like a lot of restrictions, you’ll find that most everyday foods are still safe to eat. Skipping these foods for the few months of pregnancy can help you avoid the serious complications of listeriosis. In general, good handwashing and sanitizing of kitchen surfaces is a healthy habit to adopt for every stage of your life, not just during pregnancy.

CarePoint Health Family Birth Centers

CarePoint Health is dedicated to providing you with the individual care and attention you need so you can relax and focus on what is most important — the birth of your new baby. To learn more about caring for yourself and your baby during pregnancy, view our list of upcoming classes.

Content on our website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911. Always consult your physician before making any changes to your medical treatment.


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