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Food Poisoning During Pregnancy - Topic Overview

A balanced, nutritious diet during your pregnancy is important to maintain your health and nourish your fetus. When making your food choices, you generally are able to eat the foods you usually eat. But because some types of food poisoning pose a greater risk to you and your fetus, you should take a few extra precautions when you choose and prepare your foods.

Listeriosis

Listeriosis is caused by Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium found in soil and water. It can be found on vegetables, meats, and dairy products as well as in processed foods such as soft cheeses and in cold cuts. Although the bacteria are of little danger to healthy people, in pregnant women the infection can result in premature delivery, serious infection of the newborn, or even stillbirth.

Symptoms of listeriosis include fever, muscle aches, and sometimes nausea or diarrhea. In some cases, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, or convulsions can occur. Pregnant women who are infected may experience only a mild, flu-like illness.

If you are pregnant and get listeriosis, taking antibiotics can often prevent infection of the fetus or newborn. Babies who have listeriosis receive the same antibiotics as adults, although a combination of antibiotics is often used until doctors are certain of the diagnosis.

If you are pregnant:

  • Do not eat hot dogs, luncheon meats, or deli meats, unless they are reheated until steaming hot.
  • Do not eat soft cheeses unless the label states they are made from pasteurized milk. Common cheeses typically made with unpasteurized milk—such as feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined cheeses, and Mexican-style cheeses such as "queso blanco fresco"—can cause listeriosis. Hard cheeses and semisoft cheeses such as mozzarella along with pasteurized processed cheese slices and spreads, cream cheese, and cottage cheese are safe to eat.
  • Do not eat refrigerated pâté or meat spreads. But you can 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 or shelf-stable smoked seafood.
  • Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk or eat foods that contain unpasteurized milk.
  • Avoid eating salads made in a store, such as ham, chicken, egg, tuna, or seafood salads.
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