What Not to Eat When You’re Pregnant
Pass Up Soft Cheeses
Enjoy some grated Parmesan on your pasta — but pass up the cheese dip. Soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk can harbor listeria bacteria, which can be dangerous or even life-threatening for you and your baby. It’s best to avoid brie, Camembert, feta, blue cheese, queso blanco, queso fresco, and panela — unless the label says it’s pasteurized. When in doubt or dining out, ask before you eat.
Skip Undercooked Meat
Now is the time to order all steaks and burgers fully cooked. Raw or undercooked meat can harbor toxoplasma and other bacteria. When dining out, make sure your meat is steaming hot and thoroughly cooked. At home, the temperature should reach at least 145 F for whole cuts, 160 F for ground meats like hamburger, and 165 F for chicken breasts.
Beware Fresh Juice
Fresh-squeezed juice in restaurants, juice bars, or farm stands may not be pasteurized to protect against harmful bacteria, including salmonella and E. coli. Some markets also sell raw, unpasteurized juice in the refrigerated case — look for the required warning label, and steer clear. Pregnant women should opt for juice that is pasteurized. Juice in boxes and bottles on your supermarket shelf is also safe.
Raw Cookie Dough
When you’re baking cookies, you may be tempted to pop a bit of raw dough in your mouth. But if the dough contains raw eggs, even a taste could pose a risk. The CDC estimates one in 20,000 eggs is tainted with salmonella bacteria. To be safe, resist tasting unbaked cookie dough, batter, or filling made with raw eggs. The good news: Store-bought cookie dough ice cream is safe.
Fresh Pre-Stuffed Poultry
A pre-stuffed turkey or chicken offers a great short-cut when you’re pressed for time. But the juice from fresh, raw poultry can mix with the stuffing and create a great place for bacteria to grow. Cooking usually offers protection, but pregnancy makes it harder to fight off infections. A safe alternative is buying frozen pre-stuffed poultry. Be sure to cook it directly from frozen — don’t let it defrost first. The thigh meat should hit 180 F.
Fish With Mercury
Fish is good for you and your baby, but make smart choices about the fish you eat. Swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel, and shark contain high levels of methylmercury. This metal can be harmful to your baby. You can safely eat up to 12 ounces of seafood a week, so choose fish that are low in mercury: catfish, salmon, cod, and canned light tuna. If you like albacore (white) tuna, limit yourself to 6 ounces per week. Check with your doctor before taking fish oil or any other supplements while pregnant.
Now is the time to load up on fruits and veggies! Just be sure to rinse them thoroughly under running water. A parasite called toxoplasma can live on unwashed fruits and veggies. It causes an illness called toxoplasmosis, which can be very dangerous to your baby. Don’t use soap to wash produce. Instead, scrub the surface with a small vegetable brush. Cut away any bruised areas, because these may harbor bacteria. To avoid the listeria bacteria, scrub and dry cantaloupe before slicing it.
Don’t eat any raw sprouts, including alfalfa, clover, and radish. Bacteria can get into the seeds before the sprouts begin to grow, and these germs are nearly impossible to wash away. At the deli, check sandwiches to make sure they don’t contain raw sprouts. At home, cook sprouts thoroughly to destroy any bacteria.
When you’re expecting, it’s best to skip the lox on your morning bagel. Like ready-to-eat meats, refrigerated smoked seafood is vulnerable to listeria. This includes smoked salmon (often labeled nova or lox), as well as smoked trout, whitefish, cod, tuna, and mackerel. It’s safe to use smoked seafood in a cooked meal, such as a casserole.
Raw shellfish is one of the top causes of illness from seafood. The culprits include parasites and bacteria that are generally not found in cooked seafood. So skip the oysters on the half shell. As long as you cook shellfish thoroughly, it’s safe to eat during pregnancy. Cook oysters, clams, and mussels until the shells open. If any don’t open, throw them away.
Fish From Local Waters
Unless you know your local streams, bays, and lakes are unpolluted, avoid eating fish you catch yourself. Some lakes and rivers are contaminated with industrial chemicals. Locally caught bluefish, striped bass, salmon, pike, trout, and walleye may be affected. Check with your state’s fish and wildlife department for more information.
Have you ever dreamed of visiting a farm and tasting milk fresh from a cow? Wait a while. Freshly collected milk has not yet been through the pasteurization process that protects it from listeria. That can be dangerous for you and your baby. Buy milk, cheese, or dairy products from a local farm only if the label says “pasteurized.”