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Foodborne Illness During Pregnancy


Preventing foodborne illness

Pregnant women may become much more ill from foodborne illness than other people, so it is important to take steps at home to prevent it. Use extra care with foods that can spoil, such as eggs, meats, poultry, fish, shellfish, milk, and other dairy products.

  • Shop safely.
    • Bag raw meat, poultry, or fish separately from other food items.
    • Go home as soon as you finish shopping so that you can store all foods properly.
  • Store foods safely.
    • Cook, refrigerate, or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and ready-to-eat foods within 2 hours.
    • Make sure your refrigerator is set at 4°C (40°F) or colder.
  • Prepare foods safely.
    • Wash your hands before and after handling food. Also wash them after using the bathroom or changing diapers.
    • Wash fresh fruits and vegetables by rinsing them well with running water.
    • If possible, use two cutting boards: one for fresh produce and the other for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Otherwise, be sure to wash the cutting board with hot, soapy water between each use.
    • If you have a dishwasher, wash your knives and cutting boards in it to disinfect them.
  • Cook foods safely.
    • Use a clean meat thermometer to check whether foods are cooked to a safe temperature.
    • Reheat leftovers to at least 74°C (165°F).
    • Do not eat undercooked hamburger or raw meat.
    • Avoid raw fish (including sushi), clams, and oysters.
  • Serve foods safely.
    • Keep cooked hot foods hot [60°C (140°F) or above] and cold foods cold [4°C (40°F) or below].
  • Follow labels on food packaging.
    • Food labels provide information about when to use the food and how to store it.
    • Read food labels and follow the safety instructions carefully.
  • Use extra care in warm weather.
    • During warm weather, food is often served outside. Bacteria grow faster in warm weather, so food can spoil more quickly.
    • Do not leave food outdoors for more than 1 hour if the temperature is above 32°C (90°F).
  • When in doubt, throw it out.
    • If you are not sure that a food is safe, don't eat it.
    • Reheating food that is contaminated will not make it safe.
    • Don't taste suspicious food. It may smell and look fine but may not be safe to eat.

Avoiding listeriosis foodborne illness

Listeriosis can cause serious problems during pregnancy. It's always important to store and prepare food properly to help prevent food poisoning. Pregnant women also need to take these extra precautions to avoid listeria infection.

  • Wash fresh fruits and vegetables by rinsing them well with running water.
  • Do not eat hot dogs, luncheon meats, or deli meats unless they are reheated until steaming hot.
  • Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk or eat foods that contain unpasteurized milk.
  • Do not eat soft cheeses. This includes feta, Brie, Camembert, and blue cheeses and Mexican-style cheeses such as queso blanco and queso fresco.
    • It is safe to eat hard cheeses, semisoft cheeses such as mozzarella, and pasteurized processed cheese slices and spreads. Cream cheese and cottage cheese are safe too.
  • Do not eat refrigerated paté or meat spreads.

    You may eat these foods if they are canned.

  • Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood unless it is an ingredient in a cooked dish such as a casserole.
    • Examples of refrigerated smoked seafood include salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna, and mackerel.
    • You may eat canned fish, such as salmon and tuna, and shelf-stable smoked seafood.

Avoiding toxoplasmosis infection

Toxoplasmosis during pregnancy can put your baby at risk for serious problems. Infection usually occurs from contact with infected cat feces or from eating undercooked meat or unwashed vegetables (grown where an infected cat has left droppings).

Everyone should take steps to prevent food poisoning by storing and preparing foods properly. In addition, pregnant women need to take these extra steps to prevent toxoplasmosis.

  • If you have a cat, ask someone else to clean the litter box while you are pregnant.

    If no one else can do it, wear gloves and clean the litter box daily. Wash your hands well with soap and warm water afterward.

  • Wear gloves when working in the garden or handling soil.

    Wash your hands well with soap and warm water after outdoor activities, especially before you eat or prepare food.

  • Wash all foods that could have touched cat droppings.

    This includes fruits and vegetables you buy at the store.

  • Have someone else handle raw meat for you.

    If this is not possible, wear clean disposable gloves when you touch raw meat. Wash cutting boards, sinks, knives, and other utensils that might have touched the raw meat. Wash your hands well with soap and warm water afterward.

  • Make sure the meat you eat is well-cooked.

    Use a meat thermometer to be sure foods are cooked to a safe temperature.

  • Avoid untreated drinking water.

    This is a concern when you are in the wilderness or travel to countries where drinking water is not treated.


Adaptation Date: 9/18/2023

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC