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Food Safety to Avoid Illness During Pregnancy

TOXOPLASMOSIS

What is toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a parasite that can be acquired from eating meat that is not well cooked or by handling cat feces. The disease can rarely cause mental retardation in the newborn if acquired during pregnancy. Studies have shown that the incidence of an infection in a newborn is about one in every 1,000 births.

What are the signs and symptoms?
Most people have no symptoms; some may experience fatigue, swollen glands, fever, and occasionally evidence of hepatitis (liver inflammation).

Are there tests to aid in detecting toxoplasmosis and to tell if I have ever had the disease?
There are blood tests that can detect whether you have had toxoplasmosis.

What can I do to avoid toxoplasmosis?

  • Adequately cook or cure all meat
  • Wash hands after touching raw meat and avoid touching eyes or mucous membranes when preparing meat
  • Wash all kitchen surfaces that come in contact with uncooked meat with antibacterial soap
  • Avoid contact with cat feces in litter boxes and avoid gardening in soil that may be contaminated with cat feces
  • Wear gloves when gardening
  • Do not change or disinfect a cat litter box. Have your partner or other non-pregnant person empty and disinfect the cat litter box every day

LISTERIOSIS

Pregnant women areaat high risk for getting sick from Listeria, harmful bacteria found in many foods. Listeria can cause a disease called listeriosis. Listeriosis can result in miscarriage, premature delivery, serious sickness, or the death of a newborn baby. If you are pregnant, you need to know what foods are safe to eat.

How do I know if I have listeriosis?
Because the illness could take weeks to show up, you may not know you have it. Early signs may include fever, chills, muscle aches, diarrhea, and upset stomach. At first, you may feel like you have the flu. Later on, you could have a stiff neck, headache, convulsions, or lose your balance. Every year, 2,500 Americans become sick from listeriosis, 1 out of 5 die from the illness.

What should I do if I think I have listeriosis?
Call your doctor or nurse if you have any of these signs. If you have listeriosis your doctor can treat you.

What can I do to keep my food safe?

  • Listeria can grow in the refrigerator. The refrigerator should be 40 °F or lower, and the freezer 0 °F or lower. Use a refrigerator thermometer to check your refrigerator’s inside temperature.
  • Clean up all spills in your refrigerator right away – especially juices from hot dog packages or raw meat or chicken/turkey.
  • Clean the inside walls and shelves of your refrigerator with hot water and liquid soap, then rinse.
  • Use precooked or ready-to-eat food as soon as you can. Don’t store it in the refrigerator too long.
  • Wash your hands after you touch hot dogs, raw meat, chicken, turkey, or seafood or their juices.

What can I do to keep my baby and myself safe from listeriosis?

  • Do not eat hot dogs, luncheon meats, bologna, or other deli meats unless they are reheated until steaming hot.
  • Do not eat refrigerated pâté, meat spreads from a meat counter, or smoked seafood found in the refrigerated section of the store. Foods that don’t need refrigeration, like canned tuna and canned salmon, are okay to eat. Refrigerate after opening.
  • Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk and do not eat foods that have unpasteurized milk in them.
  • Do not eat salads made in the store such as ham salad, chicken salad, egg salad, or seafood salad.
  • Do not eat soft cheese such as Feta, queso blanco, queso fresco, Brie, Camembert cheeses, blue-veined cheeses, and Panela unless it is labeled as made with pasteurized milk.

Fight Bacteria – Fight BAC!®

  • Clean: Wash hands often with soap and warm water. Use clean dishes, spoons, knives, and forks. Wash countertops with hot soapy water and clean up spills right away.
  • Separate: Keep raw meat, fish, and poultry away from other food that will not be cooked
  • Cook: Cook food to a safe minimum internal temperature. Check with a food thermometer.
  • Chill: Refrigerate or freeze within 2 hours – refrigerate or freeze within 1 hour in hot weather (above 90 °F). Don’t leave meat, fish, poultry, or cooked food sitting out.

METHYLMERCURY

What is methylmercury?
It’s a metal that can be found in certain fish. The methylmercury in these fish can be harmful to unborn babies if pregnant women eat these fish. 

Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and can also be released into the air through industrial pollution. It falls from the air and can get into surface water, accumulating in streams and oceans. Bacteria in the water cause chemical changes that transform mercury into methylmercury, which can be toxic. Fish absorb methylmercury as they feed on aquatic organisms.

Is there methylmercury in all fish?
Nearly all fish contain traces of methylmercury. However, larger fish that have lived longer have the highest levels of methylmercury because they’ve had more time to accumulate it. These large fish pose the greatest risk to pregnant women who eat them regularly.

How can pregnant women become exposed to methylmercury?
Fish in the diet is the major source of methylmercury, and eating certain types of fish leads to the accumulation of methylmercury in the body. Methylmercury can build up in the blood stream, and can then pass from the mother’s blood into that of her unborn child. 

Methylmercury is removed from the body naturally, but it may take over a year to drop to a safe level. Thus, it may be present in a woman even before she becomes pregnant. This is one of the reasons women who are trying to become pregnant should also avoid eating certain types of fish.

How can pregnant women tell if they’ve been exposed to methylmercury?
The mother will not show noticeable symptoms from eating commercial seafood, but her newborn may experience symptoms (see next question). If you think you’ve been exposed to methylmercury, see your doctor immediately.

How can methylmercury affect an unborn baby or young child?
For most people, the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern. Yet, some fish and shellfish contain higher levels or mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system.

What types of fish should pregnant women – or women trying to become pregnant – avoid eating?
These women, along with nursing mothers and young children, should not eat the following fish, as they can contain high levels of mathylmercury:

  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish
  • King mackerel
  • Shark

It’s okay to eat other cooked fish/seafood as long as a variety of other kinds are selected during pregnancy or while a woman is trying to become pregnant. She can eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.

  • Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, Pollock, and catfish
  • Another commonly eaten fish, albacore (“white”) tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.