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How to guard against food-borne illnesses, especially during pregnancy

When pregnant, a woman‘s ability to fight infection is lowered, and she becomes more susceptible to illness. Registered dietitian Juliann Mellen explains how to prevent three common foodborne illnesses:

* Listeria is a harmful bacteria that grows in refrigerated ready-to-eat foods such as unpasteurized milk and milk products, ciders and lunchmeats. To stay safe, avoid hot dogs and lunchmeats unless they are reheated until they are steaming hot; and brie, feta and other soft cheeses unless they are pasteurized.

* Mercury in high levels can harm a baby‘s developing nervous system, so skip eating shark, swordfish and king mackerel, which have high levels of mercury. Instead, Mellen says it is OK to eat up to 12 ounces per week of fish that are lower in mercury, including shrimp, tuna, salmon and catfish.

* Toxoplasma is a parasite that can be ingested by eating undercooked meats, contaminated water or produce that has not been thoroughly washed. It is also found in the feces of infected animals, particularly cats. So, pregnant women should have someone else change cat litter boxes and always wear gloves when gardening, Mellen advises.

“Good food safety practices will benefit you and your family for a lifetime.”