Hold the Bologna: Food Safety During Pregnancy

Most people know that if you don’t handle, prepare, or store food the right way, bacteria can grow in the food. This can make you sick. One of these types of bacteria is listeria. It can cause problems, especially for pregnant women.

One bad bug

Listeria is found in refrigerated, ready-to-eat foods that contain meat. These include hot dogs, luncheon meats, and deli meats. It’s also found in unpasteurized dairy products and soft cheeses. It can also be found on the skin of raw fruits and vegetables.  

If a pregnant woman becomes infected with listeria, she develops listeriosis.  Listeriosis isn’t very common. However, pregnant women are 13 times more likely to get it than most people. That's because pregnancy changes your immune system. This means you’re more likely to get some types of infections.

Listeriosis can harm a pregnancy. It can cause miscarriage, early labor, or stillbirth. A pregnant woman can even pass the infection to her unborn baby. This can lead to a low birth weight. After birth, babies with listeriosis may have major health issues. These can include meningitis.

What to watch for

Listeriosis can cause flu-like symptoms. These can include fever, chills, muscle aches, diarrhea, or an upset stomach. Symptoms may not show up until 3 months after you ate the contaminated food. If you have these symptoms, see your healthcare provider right away.

Your healthcare provider can do a blood test to see if you have listeriosis. Take heart, if you do get this infection, antibiotics can treat it. In most cases, this keeps the infection from spreading to your baby.

Tips for prevention

You can reduce your risk for listeriosis by taking these steps:

  • Keep your refrigerator clean and cold. Make sure it’s below 40° F.

  • Refrigerate or freeze perishable food within two hours.

  • Thoroughly cook meat and poultry.

  • Separate uncooked meats from other foods.

  • Eat only pasteurized dairy products.

  • Rinse raw fruits and vegetables under running tap water.

  • Wash your hands before and after eating or handling food. Be extra mindful to wash your hands after touching hot dogs, luncheon meats, and deli meats.

If you just can’t resist the idea of a Coney Island dog or a pastrami and Swiss, be sure to heat the meat until it’s steaming. This is done to kill bacteria. You should also avoid soft cheeses, such as feta and brie, refrigerated meat or seafood spreads, and smoked seafood.




Online Medical Reviewer: Bowers, Nancy, RN, BSN, MPHFoley, Maryann, RN, BSN

Date Last Reviewed: 4/12/2016

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