Food can contain bacteria, viruses and parasites that can cause illness in humans. When you are pregnant your immune system is slightly suppressed so you are more likely, than non-pregnant people, to get sick from eating food that has not been well washed, cooked or stored. Food poisoning also usually makes pregnant women more ill than non-pregnant people and in rare cases can cause miscarriage, preterm labour and serious illness in newborn babies.
You can help avoid illness caused by eating unsafe food by following some simple rules around food buying, preparation and storage.
- Buy safe food – check the “use by” date on all food and don’t eat anything that is past its “use by” or “best before” date.
- Don’t buy processed foods (canned/tinned, vacuum sealed etc) that have damaged packaging.
- Don’t buy chilled foods that are not cold or frozen foods that are not frozen solid.
- Clean – Wash you hands with soap and water before you prepare food or eat.
- Wash all fruit and vegetables thoroughly.
- Wash any fruit that you are going to eat fresh or salad vegetables, and pat dry with a clean towel or paper towels or thoroughly shake off the water. Prepare and eat salads as soon as possible after you have washed the vegetables etc.
- Make sure chopping boards and utensils used for food preparation are clean and washed regularly.
- Cook – Make sure cooked foods are properly cooked.
- Make sure that all meat and chicken etc is completely thawed before you cook it.
- If you are reheating food, heat it till it is hot not just warm. If you are reheating food in the oven – preheat the oven so that it is hot when you put the food into it. If you are reheating on the stove-top stir the food regularly while you are reheating it to make sure that it is hot right through
- Eat food as soon as possible after it has been cooked or reheated.
- Cover – Cover food on the table, bench etc to protect it from flies and insects
- Cover all cooked foods that you put in the fridge and any meat etc that you are defrosting in the fridge. (Don’t let meat and chicken juices drip onto other foods)
- Leftover food should covered and put into the fridge as soon as possible. Leftovers should only be stored for 2 days and then should be reheated thoroughly before eating. You should not reheat food more than once.
- Processed food like yoghurt, dips, canned foods etc should be stored in covered, sealed containers, stored in the fridge and eaten within 2 days of opening.
- Chill – After you have bought food, especially chilled foods (milk, cheese, yoghurt etc) or frozen foods take it straight home and put in the fridge or freezer.
- Don’t leave food in a hot car.
- Freezing food does not kill pathogens (bacteria, viruses etc) so you should only freeze fresh clean food.
- Your fridge temperature should be between 2º – 4ºC. Food in unsealed containers should be stored inside the fridge not in the fridge door.
- Keep raw and cooked foods in separate covered containers in the fridge.
- Your freezer temperature should be between -15º and – 18ºC.
- Raw food should only be frozen once. (After it is cooked and cooled it can be frozen again.)
- Cooked food should only be frozen once. (After it is defrosted it can be stored in the fridge for 2 days and eaten only after it has been thoroughly reheated.)
- Avoid foods that may be unsafe
Pregnant women are advised not to eat any of the following:
- smoked fish, raw fish or seafood products
- cold pre-cooked chicken, ham or other meats
- readymade coleslaws or salads from takeaway outlets or supermarket fridges etc
- raw unpasteurized milk or milk products
- soft cheeses
Dairy products – Make sure that any dairy products (milk, cheese, yoghurt etc) have been made from pasteurized milk.
Pregnant women are advised to avoid soft cheeses (e.g. brie, camembert, blue vein, ricotta etc) unless they are cooked till they are steaming hot. Listeria bacteria may have contaminated these products during processing and can grow at refrigerator temperature.
Listeriosis caused by listeria bacteria usually only causes mild flu–like symptoms (fever, aching muscles. diarrhoea etc). However, during pregnancy listeriosis can cause miscarriage or can affect the unborn baby who can be born prematurely and in rare cases be stillborn.
Takeaways and Eating Out – Choose only well-cooked food that has been thoroughly heated. You cannot be sure that restaurant, café or takeaway food has been safely prepared and stored. Steaming hot food is likely to be safe because most pathogens will be killed by thorough heating.
Pregnant women are advised to avoid pre-prepared salads, sushi and sandwiches.