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Food Safety During Pregnancy: Making Informed Choices for a Healthy Journey

When it comes to food safety during pregnancy, being informed and cautious is key. While there are certain foods that carry a higher risk of causing foodborne illnesses, it's important to understand that the risk does not guarantee illness. With proper knowledge and precautionary measures, you can make informed choices and enjoy a varied and nutritious diet. In this post, we will explore foods to avoid or limit during pregnancy, along with strategies to make some high-risk foods safer to consume, ensuring a safe and healthy journey for you and your baby.

Understanding the Risk

  • Some foods, such as raw or undercooked meats, unpasteurized dairy products, and raw eggs, have a higher risk of contamination with harmful bacteria. However, it's important to remember that the majority of people who consume these foods do not become ill.

  • The risk of foodborne illness can vary depending on factors such as the individual's immune system, food handling practices, and the source and quality of the food.

Making High-Risk Foods Safer

  • Deli meats: Heating up deli meats until steaming hot before consumption can help reduce the risk of Listeria infection. This can be done by briefly microwaving or cooking the meat.

  • Sushi: Opt for cooked sushi options, such as fully cooked rolls or vegetarian rolls, to eliminate the risk of consuming raw fish. Alternatively, choose reputable sushi establishments that follow strict food safety practices.

  • Eggs: Cook eggs until both the yolk and white are firm, which kills any potential Salmonella bacteria. Avoid dishes that contain raw or undercooked eggs, such as homemade Caesar dressings or eggnog.

Finding Trusted Sources

  • When it comes to high-risk foods, sourcing from reputable and trusted suppliers is crucial. Choose establishments or brands that prioritize food safety, follow proper handling and storage practices, and use pasteurized ingredients.

  • If you're unsure about the safety of a certain food item, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian for guidance on safe alternatives or preparation methods.

Practicing Safe Food Handling

  • Wash hands thoroughly before handling food, especially fresh produce, to minimize the risk of contamination.

  • Thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables under running water to remove any potential bacteria or pesticide residues.

  • Store perishable foods, such as meats and dairy products, at the appropriate temperatures to prevent bacterial growth.

  • When attending parties or gatherings, it's important to be mindful of the potential risks of consuming foods that have been sitting out for extended periods.

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

  • Raw bean sprouts like alfalfa, clover, radish, mung bean, and wheatgrass

  • High mercury fish (click here for more information about safely consuming fish during pregnancy)

  • Raw shellfish

  • Unpasteurized milk or dairy products 

  • Fresh-squeezed or unpasteurized juices

  • Alcohol 

  • Refrigerated pate or meat spreads (Note: canned pate or shelf-safe meat spreads are safe to eat)

  • Unpasteurized or imported soft cheeses like Brie, Camembert, Roquefort, Feta, Gorgonzola, and Mexican style cheeses (Note: these can be safely consumed if cooked until steaming hot; pasteurized soft cheeses are safe to eat)

  • Smoked seafood like refrigerated, smoked seafood often labeled as lox, nova style, kippered, or jerky (Note: canned or shelf-safe smoked seafood is safe to eat)

  • Unwashed fruit or vegetables

Other Considerations

While the foods listed above have a higher risk of causing foodborne illness during pregnancy, it's important to note that there are other foods not on this list that can be exposed to cross-contamination at any point during manufacturing and production. This means that even seemingly safe foods like cold cereal or frozen fruits can potentially pose a risk if they have come into contact with pathogens. While you can't always prevent exposure entirely, practicing good food safety habits, such as washing produce thoroughly, following proper storage and handling guidelines, and being mindful of expiration dates, can help minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses during pregnancy. If you have any concerns or questions, it's best to consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian for further guidance.

Symptoms to Look For

Symptoms of foodborne illnesses can vary depending on the type of pathogen involved, but common symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Nausea and vomiting: These are common symptoms of many foodborne illnesses and can occur shortly after consuming contaminated food.

  • Diarrhea: Diarrhea is another common symptom, which can range from mild to severe and may be accompanied by abdominal cramps.

  • Fever: Many foodborne illnesses can cause a fever, which is often an indication that the body is fighting off an infection.

  • Fatigue: Feeling excessively tired or experiencing a lack of energy can be a symptom of certain foodborne illnesses.

  • Muscle aches and pains: Some individuals may experience muscle aches and pains as a result of foodborne infections.

  • Headaches: Headaches can occur in some cases, especially if the foodborne illness leads to dehydration or other related symptoms.

What should you do if you suspect you have a foodborne illness?

It's important to note that symptoms can vary and may not always appear immediately after consuming contaminated food. If you suspect you have a foodborne illness, experience severe symptoms, or receive notification that a product you consumed was contaminated with a foodborne pathogen (like Listeria), it's crucial to seek medical attention immediately and inform your healthcare provider about your symptoms and recent food consumption. They will be able to provide specific guidance based on your individual circumstances. It may be recommended to monitor for any symptoms of illness or to undergo further testing. Additionally, it's crucial to keep any packaging or documentation related to the contaminated product for reference and to report the incident to the appropriate authorities or consumer protection agencies. By taking proactive steps and seeking guidance from healthcare professionals, you can address the situation in a timely and appropriate manner.


Being informed and cautious about food safety during pregnancy empowers you to make choices that prioritize the health and well-being of you and your baby. While certain foods carry a higher risk of foodborne illnesses, it's important to remember that with proper knowledge and precautionary measures, you can enjoy a varied and nutritious diet. Remember to always consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian for personalized guidance on food safety during pregnancy. As a dietitian expert specializing in pregnancy nutrition, I can provide you with evidence-based advice to ensure a safe and nourishing journey for you and your baby. To learn more about my services, book a free introductory call.


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