Food Safety During Pregnancy Can Help Prevent Food Poisoning

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Getting a case of food poisoning is never a good thing. But it can be especially serious to one while you are pregnant.

Food poisoning is also called foodborne illness, because you got it when you ate some food or drink that was contaminated with a bacteria, virus, or parasite. Symptoms of food poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, fever, aches and pains, and weakness.

Because the vomiting and diarrhea may last a while and be very severe, you can become dehydrated, which in turn causes weakness and dizziness. In most cases, the symptoms of food poisoning go away in a day or so, but some cases can last for several days.

Most cases of food poisoning show symptoms within a few hours of eating the contaminated food, but some types may take days before you start feeling ill. Not all “stomach bugs” are due to contaminated food, however. You can catch a virus or bacteria that causes vomiting and diarrhea from something that you’ve touched, or even from shaking someone’s hand.

One type of food poisoning, listeriosis, is especially dangerous for pregnant women because the bacteria that causes it can cause serious infections in your baby. The Listeria bacteria that cause listeriosis can survive refrigeration and freezing, which means that contaminated foods that are not cooked before being eaten may cause an illness even if they have been kept cold. These include foods like cold cuts, salami products, and soft cheeses like brie and queso fresco. Cheeses and dairy products that have been pasteurized are usually safe. Your doctor may have told you to avoid these foods while you are pregnant.

Raw fruits and vegetables can be contaminated by bacteria such as E. coli. To be safe, wash any fruits or vegetables that you will eat raw before you eat it or cut it up. This is especially true for melons.

Here are the best ways to help prevent food poisoning:

Keep it clean. Wash your hands, your utensils, and any surface that you prepare food on. Wash your hands with soap and water for a full 20 seconds before and after you handle food. Wash counters and tables where you prepare food with a product that says it kills bacteria on the label or use a solution of one tablespoon of household bleach to one gallon of water.

Keep it separated. Bacteria from raw meat and raw poultry can be spread from one surface to another and contaminate other foods, which is called cross contamination. Keep separate cutting boards for meats and vegetables so that you don’t cross contaminate. You might use cutting boards of different colors so that you don’t mix them up.  Clean up any spills of juices from raw meats immediately with soap and water.

Cook it right. Make sure that you heat foods to a temperature high enough to kill viruses, bacteria, and any parasites. Don’t guess. Use a food thermometer. Beef, pork, lamb, and veal should be cooked to at least an internal temperature of 145 degrees. Ground meat should be cooked to 160 degrees. Chicken and turkey should be cooked to 165 degrees.

Cool it right. Refrigerate all leftover foods promptly. Food that are lukewarm are an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, so don’t let foods cool on the counter. Make sure your refrigerator keeps food at 40 degrees or lower.  Your freezer should keep food below 0 degrees. Put food products in the refrigerator as soon as you get them home from the store.

Serve it right. Remember to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. If you are serving food at a buffet, use a chafing dish or slow cooker to keep foods hot. Use a dish or bowl nested into a bowl of ice to keep foods cold or put out smaller amounts of cold food and replenish the dish often. Food should not be left out for more than two hours at room temperature, and only for one hour if the temperature is over 90 degrees.

Buy it right. Never buy foods that are past their “sell by” or “use by” dates. Foods that are past their expiration date may have become contaminated. If a can of food is bulging, throw it out.

If you have the symptoms of food poisoning for more than a day, call your doctor. If you are vomiting and/or having diarrhea, drink plenty of fluids.

Valerie DeBenedette
Valerie DeBenedette is an experienced health and medical writer who lives about an hour north of New York City with a dog that is smaller than her cat. Her work has appeared in magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and on websites. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers.

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