With a recent poll showing that food safety is the number one diet and health related concern for expectant mums it is vital for women and their families to have access to up to date and reliable information to inform their food choices. This is especially important in recent years as the progress of scientific research has resulted in a number of revisions to recommendations about diet and nutrition for expectant parents.
Food safety in pregnancy
It is always important to be careful about how you prepare food in the home to avoid the nasty bugs that can cause food poisoning. When you are pregnant, planning a baby or have just had your baby it is more important than ever. Just following some basic guidelines can really help to reduce your risk of getting food poisoning.
- Wash your hands with soap and hot water and dry them before preparing food, after touching raw meat, after going to the toilet, sneezing, blowing your nose or touching animals (including pets).
- Wash worktops with warm soapy water before and after preparing food, especially if you are preparing raw meat.
- Dishcloths and tea towels are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria - wash your cloths and tea towels regularly and let them dry completely before using again.
- Wash fruit and vegetables with running water before eating (even if you are going to peel them).
- Have separate chopping boards for raw meat and ready to eat foods to avoid bacteria from raw meat being transferred.
- Keep raw meat and ready to eat foods separate and don't allow them to come into contact or be placed on the same surface without washing it. Bacteria in raw meat can be killed when you cook it, but not if they are transferred to foods like salads, fruit or bread.
- Make sure you cover raw meat and keep it on the bottom shelf of the fridge so that it cannot touch or drip on to any other foods.
- When you cook, make sure the food is piping hot all the way through. For meats like poultry, pork, burgers, sausages and kebabs, check that they are cooked all the way through with no pink meat on the inside.
- Check your fridge temperature (you can get small temperature checkers for your fridge) and make sure it is between 0 and 4oC
- If you have leftovers or food that you are not going to eat straight away, cool it as quickly as you can (within an hour and a half) and then store it in the fridge or freezer. Eat foods that you have stored in the fridge within 2 days.
- Harmful bacteria can grow in foods with a 'use by' date e.g. cooked meats, cheeses, prepared salads, - so don't eat them after they've gone past this.
What not to eat when pregnant
To reduce the risk of getting a foodborne illness during pregnancy that may harm your baby or lead to miscarriage, there are certain things that you will need to give up when you’re pregnant.
Meat and fish
- Pâté (all types) can, on rare occasions contain listeria bacteria, which are harmful to your baby.
- Raw or undercooked meat, including cured meat for example parma ham (prosciutto) and salami. These can carry bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses. Meat should be cooked thoroughly with no pink meat or blood left. You should also avoid contact of raw meat with foods that are eaten raw, such as vegetables.
- Liver contains very high levels of vitamin A, which can harm your baby.
- Avoid certain types of fish - shark, marlin and swordfish as they contain mercury and other pollutants that can harm your baby’s developing nervous system.
- Raw shellfish should not be eaten as it carries a risk of food poisoning.
- Oily fish is great for the development of your baby’s nervous system and eyes, but you should not eat more than two portions (1 portion = 140g, cooked weight) a week because they can contain pollutants, which can harm your baby. The same goes for tuna, so don’t eat more than 4 cans or 2 medium sized steaks per week.
Cheese and dairy
- Cheeses with a soft rind like Brie and Camembert, and blue veined cheeses like stilton. You should also avoid unpasteurised soft cheeses such as goats’ cheese. These types of cheese can contain listeria bacteria, although this is rare.
- Unpasteurised milk and milk products can also contain bacteria that are harmful to you and your baby.
- Raw or partially cooked eggs, as well as products containing raw eggs such as homemade mayonnaise and salad dressings. Raw eggs might contain salmonella which can cause food poisoning. Most shop-bought mayonnaises and dressings contain pasteurised eggs so are safe to eat, but check if you are eating out at a restaurant as they may make their own.
- Alcohol should be avoided completely during the first three months, as high intakes have been linked with an increased risk of miscarriage.
- If you choose to drink alcohol during pregnancy, you should not drink more than one or two units once or twice a week. A unit is half pint of lager or one pub measure of spirit. An average glass of wine is usually two units.
- Excessive drinking has been linked to your baby having a low birth weight and abnormalities with development.
Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, chocolate, some sports/energy drinks and some soft drinks. You should limit your intake of caffeine to around 200mg per day, roughly 2 mugs of instant coffee or 2 and a half mugs of tea. A high caffeine intake has been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage and a low birth weight.
In the past the government advised against eating peanuts during pregnancy, if the parents had a history of allergies. In 2009, the advice was changed based on new research, so if you wish you can now choose to eat peanuts or food containing peanuts (such as peanut butter) during pregnancy as part of a healthy balanced diet, unless you are allergic to them or your midwife or doctor advises you not to.
Other things to avoid
As well as the foods and drinks mentioned above, you should also avoid contact with soil or cat litter by wearing gloves as they can carry harmful bacteria that can lead to foodborne illnesses, which may cause abnormalities in your baby.
With the advent of the internet it has become much easier to quickly access current information reflecting new scientific evidence and guidelines versus relying on printed materials which can quickly become outdated as new research comes to light.
The sheer volume of advice online can be daunting and confusing if not outright contradictory at times, for evidence based, reliable and regularly reviewed information you can visit www.nutrition4baby.co.uk which is managed by the British Nutrition Foundation or NHS Direct (http://www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk).
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All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.