Sadly, it’s not just about saying no to cookie dough and sushi.
Posted on March 28, 2017, 14:01 GMT
Since you’re eating for
two during pregnancy, food becomes a big part of your life.
But some foods are off-limits because they may contain
bacteria, which could harm the mother or
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When it comes to foodborne illnesses, the stakes are much
higher for pregnant women. “Women have altered immunity
during their pregnancy, which means they are more
susceptible to bacteria and it’s harder to fight off
infection, so they tend to get sicker, too,” Dr. Shilpi Mehta-Lee, assistant
professor of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone
Medical Center, tells BuzzFeed Health.
Foods are typically unsafe to eat during pregnancy if
they have a high risk of bacterial or parasitic contamination.
The worst kind are Listeria bacteria and the
Toxoplasma parasite, says Mehta-Lee, because they
can easily cross through the placenta and infect the
fetus, causing anything from developmental problems —
like blindness — to miscarriage and stillbirth.
Other harmful bacteria include E. coli,
Campylobacter, and Salmonella. These are
less likely to cross the placenta and do serious harm in
the womb, Mehta-Lee says, but they can make the mother
severely or even fatally ill by causing prolonged
diarrhea and vomiting or other complications — and that
obviously isn’t good for a growing fetus, either.
Most mothers-to-be know
this means giving up raw meat and eggs — but there are other
less obvious risky foods that you should probably avoid
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The standard foods that doctors say need
to be avoided include raw or undercooked meat, fish with
high mercury levels, raw eggs, and unpasteurized dairy
(pasteurization is a sterilizing process that kills
bacteria). But some foods that have a high risk of
bacterial contamination may not make the list because
they aren’t as obvious or popular. With our expert’s
help, we rounded up a list of these below.
That being said, it also isn’t healthy to beat yourself
up if you make a mistake. “If you accidentally eat
something you weren’t supposed to, don’t believe that any
problem in the future was 100% caused by that single
exposure to a food — I see too many women feeling
guilty for this reason,” Mehta-Lee says. “If you get
checked out and the pregnancy is still going well after
you’ve eaten something on the banned list, just relax and
try not to become overly worried or paranoid.”
1. Unpasteurized fruit or vegetable
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Even though the fresh-pressed fruit and vegetable juice
trend is huge right now, pregnant women probably
shouldn’t hop on the bandwagon. “Women think these are
great during pregnancy because they’re healthy and full
of vitamins, but what they don’t realize is some juices,
such as orange juice, are unpasteurized, and also the
rapid chopping and juicing process allows for
cross-contamination,” Mehta-Lee says.
The result? Many of these seemingly harmless fruit and
veggie juices have a higher risk of containing bacteria
like E. coli, which can make the mother and
developing fetus pretty sick.
2. Lox (smoked salmon)
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Most pregnant women know not to eat sushi, but smoked
fish is a little less obvious since it’s technically
cooked through a curing process. “Cold-smoked or cured
fish like salmon lox isn’t heated high enough to kill
certain parasites and bacteria, which can cross into the
placenta and harm the pregnancy,” says Mehta-Lee.
Fish should always be cooked to at least 145 degrees
Fahrenheit before eating if you’re pregnant. So you
definitely want to get your bagel without lox, no matter
how tempting it looks.
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Similar to lox, ceviche is technically cooked using a
cold curing process where the fish is soaked in acidic
lime juice. “Ceviche is surprising for many people
because it has the appearance of being cooked and the
protein is denatured like it would be in baked or fried
fish, but there’s no heat in the cooking process, so no
bacteria gets killed,” says Mehta-Lee.
4. Queso fresco
Most pregnant women know to avoid soft cheeses made with
unpasteurized or raw milk, such as brie or camembert.
However, they might not know to also steer clear of queso
fresco or cotija cheese — it’s a harder, crumbly cheese
found in many Mexican dishes. It has a similar look and
texture to feta, and it’s often sprinkled on top of
tacos, elote (corn on the cob), or enchiladas.
“Queso fresco is often made with unpasteurized milk and
it isn’t heated, so it can contain foodborne germs like
Listeria, which isn’t always harmful to the mother
but could really harm the fetus, especially in the first
or second trimester,” Mehta-Lee says.
5. Alfalfa sprouts
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Vegetables are an important part of any healthy diet, but
raw alfalfa or bean sprouts are an exception if you’re
pregnant. These little sprouts have been known to cause
outbreaks of foodborne illnesses because they can easily
become contaminated with Salmonella and E.
coli. Sprouts are okay to eat if you aren’t pregnant,
but the risk of contamination is too high to safely
consume them while carrying a developing baby.
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Cantaloupe is known for causing foodborne illness
outbreaks because melons are ground-growing fruits and
bacteria like E. coli and Listeria occur
naturally in soil, so they end up on the rinds, Mehta-Lee
“If there’s Listeria on the melon surface and it
isn’t washed very well — which it usually isn’t because
people don’t eat the rind — you can carry the
Listeria from the rind into the meat of the fruit
when you cut it with a knife which will expose you to the
bacteria,” Mehta-Lee says. Unless you wash your
cantaloupes very well before chopping them, it’s probably
best to avoid the melons altogether.
7. Hot dogs
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Pre-cooked, packaged hot dogs (either pork or beef)
really aren’t safe to eat during pregnancy. “We know that
hot dogs and other cooked and chilled lunch meats are
often contaminated with Listeria,” Mehta-Lee says.
The only exception to this is if you reheat the hot dogs
to over 165 degrees Fahrenheit after taking them out of
the packaging, since this will kill any bacteria still
lingering in there.
8. Store-bought chicken or ham
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We’re talking about the chicken, ham, or seafood salads
you’d buy at a deli in the grocery store, which you’d see
sitting in a big bowl or packaged in plastic containers.
Even though they are refrigerated and look harmless,
these deli salads are known to sometimes be contaminated
with foodborne germs that can harm the mother and fetus.
“The pre-cooked and chilled meat could be contaminated
with Listeria,” Mehta-Lee says. So you shouldn’t
eat these deli salads during pregnancy unless you cook
them at home, properly cooking the meat at a high enough
temperature to kill bacteria and using commercial
mayonnaise, which has pasteurized eggs and is safe to eat
(more on raw egg products in a bit!).
9. Salami or pepperoni
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Salami, pepperoni, and chorizo are additional examples of
cold-cured or fermented meats (like lox) that might
contain listeria because there wasn’t enough heat to kill
bacteria during the cooking process. “We know that these
cold meats could contain parasites or bacteria so
pregnant women should definitely avoid these even if they
are craving them,” Mehta-Lee says.
10. Homemade caesar or blue cheese
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According to the FDA, pregnant women should avoid
eating or tasting anything that may contain raw or
undercooked eggs — although commercial mayonnaise,
dressings, and sauces, made with pasteurized eggs are
You might not have known that Caesar salad dressing often
contains raw egg yolks, especially when it’s homemade or
a from a higher-end store. So caesar dressing is
definitely a no-go for pregnant women, unless the label
clearly indicates that it’s either egg-free or contains
commercially pasteurized eggs.
Blue cheese dressing is another risk because if the
cheese isn’t pasteurized, which it sometimes isn’t, then
it could contain Listeria. So it’s best to stay
away from creamy homemade dressings that could contain
raw eggs or soft cheeses, Mehta-Lee says, and opt for
other dressings instead.
11. Homemade ice cream
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When it comes to pregnancy cravings, ice cream probably
makes the top of the list. In most cases, ice cream is
completely safe to eat if you buy it packaged, from a
store, but the rules change when the ice cream is
“Homemade ice cream is known for containing raw egg yolks
to give a creamy texture, so it’s best to stay away
unless you’re positive it’s egg-free,” Mehta-Lee says.
And it should go without saying, but if the homemade ice
cream also has cookie dough then definitely stay away
— that’s a double whammy of raw eggs and possible
Salmonella contamination. So stick to store-bought
until the bun is out of the oven.
12. Hollandaise sauce
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Hollandaise is that creamy, lemony sauce poured over eggs
benedict or asparagus. It’s difficult to prepare properly
because it involves very undercooked egg yolks to get the
right texture. So there’s a pretty big chance that your
hollandaise will contain raw eggs, which means there’s
also a high risk of it containing Salmonella,
Not to mention, if hollandaise isn’t kept at the right
temperature or sits out too long, it can rapidly grow
other bacteria that causes foodborne illness — it’s
known for outbreaks. So definitely stay away during
pregnancy, but it’s also smart to be careful when
ordering hollandaise even when you aren’t pregnant.
Meringue is made by beating raw egg whites with sugar.
It’s totally safe to eat when it’s fully cooked — like it
is in those little hard meringue cookies. However, if the
meringue isn’t cooked all the way through, or only
torched on the top (like it is in lemon meringue pie),
you should avoid it while you’re pregnant.
“If the egg whites are still raw in the meringue, they
could contain salmonella and end up making the mother
very sick,” says Mehta-Lee. So even if the soft meringue
is store-bought or from a restaurant, just say no. Even
though undercooked meringue made with pasteurized eggs is
safe to eat in all other stages of life, it really isn’t
a good choice for pregnant women.
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Similar to meringue, the creamy filling in tiramisu is
often made with raw egg yolks and either gently cooked or
not cooked at all. Unless you are positive that the eggs
were cooked at a high enough temperature to kill bacteria
or the dessert is egg-free, tiramisu really isn’t safe to
eat during pregnancy due to the risk of Salmonella
exposure. Not to mention, tiramisu often contains some
alcohol, which makes it even less of a healthy choice for
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