During pregnancy, both the expecting mother and the unborn child are at an increased risk for foodborne illness. This is because a woman’s immune system is weakened during pregnancy, making it harder to fight off infections. The unborn baby’s immune system is also not developed enough to fight off harmful foodborne bacteria. For both mother and baby, foodborne illness can cause serious health problems.
It’s estimated that there are approximately 11 million cases of foodborne illnesses in Canada every year. Many of these illnesses could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques.
While it’s always important for Canadians to follow proper food safety steps, it’s especially important for women to pay close attention to food safety during pregnancy. To protect themselves and their unborn baby, pregnant women should follow the four key steps to food safety: Cook; Clean; Chill and Separate.
Cook – Always cook food to the safe internal temperatures. You can check this by using adigital food thermometer. Colour alone is not a reliable indicator that meat is safe to eat. Meat can turn brown before all the bacteria are killed.
Clean – Properly clean anything that comes in contact with the food (your hands, kitchen surfaces and utensils, reusable grocery bags, etc.). This will help eliminate bacteria and reduce your risk of foodborne illness. In addition, fruits and vegetables should be washed under running water that is suitable for drinking.
Chill – It is extremely important to keep cold food cold and hot food hot so that your food never reaches the “danger temperature zone,” which is between 4oC and 60oC (40oF and 140oF). Defrosting raw meat, poultry and seafood (including fish or shellfish) should be done in the refrigerator, in the microwave, or immersed in cold water (i.e., keep the food in its original wrapping and change the water every half hour to ensure the water remains cold), never at room temperature. Food thawed in the microwave should be cooked immediately.
Separate – It is important to always separate your raw foods, such as meat and eggs, from ready-to-eat foods, such as cooked meat and vegetables, to avoid cross-contamination.
Pregnant women should also pay close attention to what they are eating during their pregnancy. Some foods carry a higher risk of causing foodborne illness than others.
- Make sure to cook hot dogs and deli meats until they are steaming hot before eating them
- Don’t eat raw or undercooked meat, poultry and seafood (including fish andshellfish)
- Avoid refrigerated smoked seafood (including fish and shellfish)
- Avoid unpasteurized fruit juice, cider and milk
- Avoid soft cheeses made from unpasteurized or pasteurized milk (such as brie and camembert) as well as semi-soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk (such as semi soft blue-veined cheeses).
- Avoid refrigerated pâtés and meat spreads
- Avoid foods with raw or undercooked eggs such as salad dressings and cookie dough
- Avoid raw sprouts such as alfalfa, clover, radish and mung beans