K-State Research and Extension News
October 04, 2013
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Food Safety in Pregnancy

Scientific information about food safety is available for pregnant women to help keep them and their unborn babies healthy.

OLATHE, Kan. – Foodborne illnesses can be a concern for everyone, but they can be of particular concern for pregnant women and other vulnerable populations such as the very young, old and others with compromised immune systems. A pregnant woman’s body naturally undergoes hormonal changes, which leads to a change in her immune system, and her unborn child has an under-developed immune system as well.

Londa Vanderwal Nwadike, state extension food safety specialist for Kansas State University and the University of Missouri, said there are certain harmful microorganisms that can take advantage of changes and weaknesses in the immune system and easily transfer from a pregnant woman to her baby.

While all foodborne illnesses are a concern for pregnant women, Nwadike said two particular microorganisms for pregnant women to be especially aware of are Listeria monocytogenes and Toxoplasma gondii. Listeria monocytogenes can lead to a disease called listeriosis, which can cause miscarriage, premature delivery, serious sickness or even the death of a newborn baby. Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite found in numerous foods, such as raw and undercooked meat or unwashed fresh fruits and vegetables. It can also be present in dirty cat litter boxes and other areas where cat feces can be found. Toxoplasmosis can cause infant hearing loss, mental retardation and blindness.

“To avoid these microorganisms, pregnant women should be sure to wash their hands often, wash cutting boards and knives thoroughly after use, and wash all fruits and vegetables before eating,” Nwadike said.

Pregnant women, she added, should avoid foods that are of higher risk for foodborne illness and replace them with lower-risk choices:

·       Avoid raw or undercooked meat or poultry. Instead, eat meat and poultry cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature. Use a food thermometer to check for the following temperatures: Beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops and roasts: 145 degrees Fahrenheit (145 F) with a three-minute rest time after cooking; ground beef, pork, lamb and veal: 160 F; all poultry products and all reheated foods: 165 F.

·       Avoid raw or undercooked fish or seafood, as well as refrigerated smoked fish. Pregnant women should eat seafood cooked to 145 F, cooked seafood reheated to 165 F, and canned fish and seafood. They, along with their young children, should monitor their consumption of fish containing mercury (www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/BuyStoreServeSafeFood/ucm110591.htm).

·       Avoid unpasteurized (raw) milk, fruit juice and cider. Pasteurized drinks are fine for pregnant women to consume.

·       Avoid foods containing raw or undercooked eggs. Such foods might include homemade raw cookie dough, eggnog and ice cream. At home, use pasteurized eggs or egg products in recipes calling for raw or undercooked eggs, and when eating out, ask if pasteurized eggs were used in food preparation.

·       Avoid soft-boiled or over-easy eggs. Pregnant women should eat fully cooked eggs with a firm yolk and whites. Dishes containing eggs, such as quiche, should be cooked to 160 F.

·       Avoid raw sprouts. Alfalfa, bean and any other sprouts should be cooked.

·       Avoid unwashed fresh fruits and vegetables. Make sure vegetables are   thoroughly washed and fully cooked.

·       Avoid soft cheeses made from unpasteurized (raw) milk. These cheeses include feta, brie, camembert, blue-veined and queso fresco. Pregnant women should instead consume hard cheeses, processed cheeses, cream cheese and soft cheeses only made with pasteurized milk and labeled as such.

·       Avoid cold hot dogs and deli meats. Pregnant women should reheat hot dogs and deli meats to 165 F before eating.

·       Avoid unpasteurized, refrigerated pates or meat spreads. Canned or shelf-stable pates and meat spreads are fine to consume in pregnancy.

Following these tips, Nwadike said, can help prevent illnesses associated with Salmonella, E.coli, Listeria and Campylobacter. She said nursing mothers are not at as high a risk for listeriosis and toxoplasmosis and cannot pass foodborne illnesses to their babies through breast milk, but still should take care of themselves like any other consumer.

“Nursing mothers should follow the same food safety advice as any consumers and should be sure to get the proper nutrients to feed their baby,” Nwadike said.

The four basic steps to food safety—clean, separate, cook and chill—are also good for pregnant women and all consumers to keep in mind.

More information about food safety tips to consider during pregnancy is available on the K-State Research and Extension website.


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by: Katie Allen
K-State Research & Extension News

Londa Vanderwal Nwadike – lnwadike@ksu.edu or 913-307-7391