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2021 Oct

Food Safety During Pregnancy

Take precautions with your diet for your safety and your baby’s.

Food poisoning happens when you eat or drink something with harmful bacteria in it. There are two main bacteria that we want to prevent coming in contact with during pregnancy, and they are Listeria and Salmonella. In pregnancy, you can pass the bacteria to your baby. This can cause problems including: miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm labor and premature birth, low birth weight, and life-threatening infections in your baby.

Listeria may be in the soil, water, on animals, and in animal waste. The most common cause of listeriosis is eating food with Listeria in it. A list of foods that are most likely to have Listeria include: unpasteurized milk and foods made with it; soft cheeses, such as Feta, Brie, Camembert, Roquefort, and Mexican-style cheeses, like queso fresco, queso blanco, Panela, and Asadero; deli meat, hot dogs, juice from hot dogs and dry sausages that are chilled or at room temperature; unwashed fruits, vegetables, or sprouts; cold salads from delis or salad bars; refrigerated patés or meat spreads (canned meat spreads are safe.); and refrigerated smoked seafood, including nova-style, lox, kippered, smoked, and jerky.

Salmonella can be transmitted in two ways; first by touching an infected animal. Salmonella can be found in poop, soil, water (including fish tank water), food and bedding of infected animals, including pets. Animals that are most likely to carry Salmonella include reptiles and poultry. Secondly, Salmonella can be transmitted by eating food that is contaminated with Salmonella. These foods may look and smell normal, even if they’re contaminated.

Common foods that have Salmonella include: raw or undercooked poultry, meat, or fish. Salmonella can pass from chickens to their eggs. Even eggs that look normal can have Salmonella.

Don’t eat food made with raw eggs, including homemade mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce, Caesar salad dressing, cookie dough, frostings and homemade ice cream, unpasteurized milk, foods that come in contact with animal poop in the soil or water where they grow, including mushrooms, fruits, vegetables, and vegetable sprouts, and food that comes into contact with Salmonella while you’re making or serving it.

For example, if you’re infected and don’t wash your hands after using the bathroom, you can spread the infection to food. Or if you use the same knife to cut raw chicken and tomatoes and don’t wash the knife in between, the knife can pass Salmonella from the chicken to the tomatoes.

Signs and symptoms of listeriosis usually start a few days after eating food contaminated by Listeria, but they may not happen for up to 2 months. They’re usually mild and flu-like. However, signs of salmonellosis usually start a half-day to 3 days after contact and last for 4 to 7 days. Both of these infections can cause problems during the pregnancy, including dehydration, bacteremia, meningitis, and reactive arthritis.

Treatment depends on how sick you are. You may not need any treatment, or your provider may treat you with antibiotics to help keep you and your baby safe. If you have food poisoning, drink lots of water to help you stay hydrated. If you’re severely dehydrated, you may need to go to the hospital for treatment.

To prevent food poisoning during pregnancy you can: wash your hands right before handling food and with soap and water after using the bathroom or touching animals or their food, bedding, tanks, or waste. Avoid foods that are likely to be contaminated with Listeria or Salmonella. Handle foods safely whenever you wash, prepare, cook, and store them. Be sure to wash knives, cutting boards, and dishes used to prepare raw meat, fish, or poultry before using them for other foods. Call your health provider if you think you may have food poisoning.

Melissa Waddell, WHNP

Melissa Waddell, WHNP, practices obstetrics and gynecology at Atlantic Ob located in Va. Beach and Chesapeake. Please visit


Give Your Child a Healthy Start to the School Year

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Help ensure your child enters the new school year healthy and without delay with these tips from the Virginia Department of Health.