Pregnant women should keep food safety in mind this holiday season

Making deliberate food choices during holiday meals can help you avoid foodborne illness.

The holiday season is full of special and unique foods. The holiday season is a special time to be pregnant. But, it is important to be extra cautious to protect your unborn child and yourself from foodborne illness. According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), pregnancy can weaken a woman’s immune system. For this reason there is an increased risk of contracting a foodborne illness from bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Two particularly harmful foodborne pathogens are listeria monocytogenes and toxoplasma gondii.

Listeria monocytogenes is a harmful bacterium that is found in many foods. Unfortunately, listeria monocytogenes can cause the disease listeriosis. Listeriosis can result in a miscarriage, premature delivery, serious illness or even death to a newborn baby. Foods to avoid while you are pregnant are: hot dogs, luncheon meats, bologna, and other deli meats, refrigerated pate, meat spread found at the meat counter, smoked seafood found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, raw or unpasteurized milk and milk products, this includes Brie, Camembert, feta, queso blanco, queso fresco, and blue-veined cheeses. Included in the list of foods to avoid are the in-store-made ham salad, chicken salad, egg salad, tuna, salad, or seafood salad.

Toxoplasma gondii is a single-celled parasite that causes toxoplasmosis. The parasite is found worldwide. In the United States, over 60 million people may be infected with the toxoplasma parasite. If they have a healthy immune system, they may not even realize that they have the parasite. For pregnant women and their unborn child, toxoplasmosis may cause serious health issues. Toxoplasmosis can cause blindness, hearing loss, and intellectual disabilities in infants and children. Foods to avoid are undercooked, contaminated meat from pork, lamb, and venison sources, unpasteurized goat’s milk and milk products, raw or undercooked oysters, mussels, or clams. Another potential source for this parasite is the cat litter box. Now is not the best time for a pregnant woman to be cleaning the cat litter box.

The holiday season is not the time for a pregnant woman to drink eggnog because some recipes use unpasteurized milk and raw egg, which may contain salmonella. Avoid raw or unpasteurized apple cider because there is the danger of e. coli bacteria. If you cannot pass up the holiday cheese plate, choose cheddar, mozzarella, or cream cheese, instead of the soft cheese from unpasteurized dairy sources.

Since raw fish dishes have the potential for foodborne illness bacteria and parasites, pass up the sushi or Christmas ceviche. Choose instead only fish dishes that have been cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

To protect yourself and your unborn baby, Michigan State University Extension suggests being extra cautious about your food choices this holiday season. Skip any raw or undercooked eggs, meat, poultry or fish. Make sure the eggs, meat, poultry, and fish are cooked to correct minimum internal temperatures. Skip the soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk. Stick with cheddar, Swiss, or mozzarella cheeses. Avoid deli and lunch meats unless they have been heated up to at least 165 degrees F. Have a safe holiday season.

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