Food Safety for Moms-to-Be

Foodborne illness is a sickness that occurs when people eat and drink harmful microorganisms (bacteria, parasites, viruses) or chemical contaminants found in some foods or drinking water. You and your growing fetus are at high-risk from some foodborne illnesses because during pregnancy your immune system is altered, which makes it harder for your body to fight off certain harmful foodborne microorganisms. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides more detail and resources on foodborne illness.

We know that although food safety is very important during pregnancy, it can also be very confusing. Therefore, here are some guidelines and simple steps to keep you and your baby safe.

  1.  Wash hands, utensils, and surfaces before and after cooking.
  2. Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from ready-to-eat foods. If possible, use one cutting board for raw meat and another for fresh fruit and vegetables. Place cooked food on a clean plate.
  3. Cook foods thoroughly using a food thermometer to check the temperature. The range of temperatures at which bacteria can grow is usually between 40° F and 140° F. Discard foods left out at room temperature for more than two hours.
  4. Refrigerate or freeze perishables. Your refrigerator should register at 40° F or below and the freezer at 0° F. Use ready-to-eat, perishable foods as soon as possible.

Foods to Avoid

As a mom to be, there are three specific foodborne risks that you need to be aware of, Listeria monocytogenes, Methylmercury, and Toxoplasma. These risks can cause serious illness or death to you and your unborn child. Follow these steps to ensure a health pregnancy.

Listeria momocytogenes

A harmful bacterium that can grow at refrigerator temperatures where most other foodborne bacteria do not. It causes an illness called listeriosis. Listeria momocytogenes can be found in frigerated, ready-to-eat foods and unpasteurized milk and milk products.

How to prevent illness:

  • Follow the four simple steps above.
    • Hot dogs and luncheon meats (unless they are reheated until steaming hot).
    • Soft cheese: Feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined cheeses, queso blanco, queso fresco, and Panela (Unless labeled as made with pasteurized milk. Check the label.)
    • Refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads.
    • Refrigerated smoked seafood. (unless it’s in a cooked dish, such as a casserole. Refrigerated smoked seafdood, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna, or mackerel, is most often labeled as nova-style, lox, kippered, smoked or jerky. These types of fish are found in the refrigerator section or sold at deli counters of grocery stores and delicatessens.)
    • Raw (unpasteurized) milk or foods that contain unpasteurized milk.


A metal that can be found in certain fish which, at high levels, can be harmful to an unborn baby’s developing nervous system. Large, long-living fish, such as shark, tilefish, king mackerel, and swordfish are the most common fish where methylmercury can be found.

How to prevent illness:

  • DO NOT EAT Shark, tilefish, king mackerel, or swordfish. These fish can contain high levels of methylmercury.
  • It’s ok to eat other cooked fish/seafood as long as a variety of toher kinds are selected during pregnancy or while a woman is trying to become pregnant. She can eat up to 12 oz. (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish. Anotehr commonly eaten fish, albacore (white) tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 oz. (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.

Toxoplasma gondii

A harmful parasite which causes an illness called toxoplasmosis that can be difficult to detect. It can be found in raw and undercooked meat, unwashed fruits and vegetables, contaminated water and soil, dirty cat-litter boxes, and outdoor places where cat feces can be found.

How to prevent illness:

    • Cook meat thoroughly.
    • If possible, have someone else change the litterbox. If you have to clean it, always wash your hands with soap and warm water afterwards.
    • Wear gloves when gardening or handling sand from a sandbox.
    • Avoid getting a new cat while pregnant.

Visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for more detail and resources on foodborne illness.