Why food safety is vital during pregnancy

photo: iStock

photo: iStock

Why are pregnant women at greater risk of foodborne illness?

When a woman becomes pregnant, she undergoes all sorts of physical changes that are necessary for her body to accept and nurture the growing baby in her womb.

One of those changes involves part of the mother’s immune system called “cell-mediated immunity.” When it’s working normally, cell-mediated immunity helps fight the kinds of pathogens that move from cell to cell. This doesn’t affect the part of the immune system that involves antibodies, which remains fully functioning during pregnancy.

Cell-mediated immunity is the type of immunity involved when a person has an organ transplant and the body rejects the new organ, thinking it’s a foreign invader. When a woman becomes pregnant, the body suppresses this function to allow the body to accept the fetus.

That’s all well and good, but it does put the mother and fetus at higher risk for some types of foodborne illness.

According to foodsafety.gov, the federal government’s hub for food safety information, the top five pathogens related to food poisoning during pregnancy are bacteria Listeria monocytogenes, Campylobacter, E. coli and Salmonella, and a parasite, Toxoplasma gondii. Depending on the pathogen and the severity of the illness, these can cause miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth or birth defects in the fetus, as well as serious health problems for the mother.

Food Safety for Pregnant Women, online at foodsafety.gov/risk/pregnant, provides details about each of these pathogens as well as other guidelines, including:

  • Avoid unpasteurized milk and products made from it. Soft cheeses, such as brie, feta, Camembert, Roquefort, queso blanco and queso fresco are frequently made with unpasteurized milk. Some hard cheeses are also made with raw or unpasteurized milk. Always read the label.
  • Avoid unpasteurized juice or cider. Even fresh-squeezed juice has been associated with E. coli.
  • Avoid raw seafood and be selective with smoked seafood. Both pose a risk from Listeria. Smoked seafood is OK only if it is canned or otherwise processed to be shelf-stable (the kind that doesn’t need refrigeration), or is an ingredient in a casserole or other dish cooked to at least 165 degrees F.
  • Avoid premade ham, chicken, tuna or other meat or seafood salads, such as those you can buy in a deli. Make them at home instead.
  • Don’t eat hot dogs or lunchmeats unless you’ve heated them to steaming hot — 165 degrees F.
  • Be sure any eggs you eat are cooked until the yolk is firm. Any casseroles or foods containing raw eggs should be cooked to 160 degrees F. Avoid foods containing raw or undercooked eggs, including unpasteurized eggnog, cookie or cake batter, Caesar salad dressing, tiramisu, eggs Benedict, homemade ice cream and freshly made hollandaise sauce.

For more details, see foodsafety.gov/risk/pregnant.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, food safety specialist with Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Chow Line: If you’re at risk, be aware of Listeria

chow_071015-87514165Last weekend at a cookout, I ate a raw hot dog. Someone there told me I should never eat raw hot dogs because of the risk of foodborne illness. But I always thought hot dogs are already cooked, and you really only need to heat them up if you want them hot. Who is right?

Hot dogs, or rather frankfurters or wieners, are cooked (sometimes smoked) sausages. Although most people can eat them “raw” without a problem, a foodborne illness outbreak in 1998 associated with unheated hot dogs and deli meats caused 108 illnesses, four miscarriages and 14 fatalities. The culprit was Listeria monocytogenes, which can cause the illness listeriosis, especially in pregnant women and other high-risk populations.

Those populations include people who are taking immunity-suppressing drugs, those with diabetes or other conditions that weaken the immune system, and anyone over the age of 60. If you’re in one of those groups, heat hot dogs until steaming hot and keep them at 140 degrees F until served.

Listeriosis is a relatively rare but severe disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 1,600 people become ill with it each year, compared with an estimated 1.2 million illnesses from Salmonella bacteria. But of those who get listeriosis, an estimated 1 in 6 die. That’s one reason why you should take it seriously.

Another fact to keep in mind: Listeria is different from many other foodborne pathogens because it can actually grow in the fridge. The more cells there are of a pathogen, the higher risk it poses. Not to be a killjoy, but you should remember this the next time you consider eating a cold dog instead of hot dog.

Unfortunately, Listeria isn’t confined to lunchmeats and frankfurters. The largest outbreak in the U.S. was in 2011, when listeriosis associated with cantaloupes from a Colorado farm caused 147 illnesses, 33 deaths and one miscarriage. Earlier, in 1985, listeriosis from Mexican-style soft cheese contaminated with raw milk caused 142 illnesses, 18 deaths, and 20 miscarriages or stillbirths. Other recent outbreaks have been associated with ice cream, commercially sold caramel apples, cheese and raw sprouts. As you can see, many foods associated with Listeria monocytogenes aren’t normally cooked before eaten, so we lose that protective step with those foods.

According to the CDC, Listeria is found in the environment and we’re exposed to it regularly. If you’re at higher risk of foodborne illness, pay heed if you become very sick with fever and muscle aches or stiff neck, or if you’re pregnant and develop mild flu-like symptoms. These are symptoms of listeriosis — contact your doctor immediately.

To reduce your risk, avoid drinking raw milk or products made from raw milk; rinse produce thoroughly under running tap water before eating; and wash hands, knives, countertops and cutting boards after handling and preparing raw foods. For more information, see www.foodsafety.gov and look under “Food Poisoning” for listeria.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, Ohio State University Extension’s food safety specialist.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

News: Chow Line: Focus on what causes most foodborne illness

chow_030615_178082621What foods are most problematic when it comes to foodborne illness?

While an estimated 48 million Americans become sick and 3,000 die each year due to foodborne illness, many of those cases can’t be traced to a specific source. So, to answer questions like yours, authorities recently examined outbreaks caused by a known pathogen, which account for roughly 9 million illnesses and 1,000  fatalities annually.

The report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service identified foods associated with four major foodborne pathogens: Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157, Listeria monocytogenes and Camplyobacter. They focused on these four bugs in part because of the frequency and severity of the illnesses they cause.

The report looked at foodborne illness outbreaks between 1998 and 2012, giving greater weight to those that occurred most recently, since 2008. Among the findings:

  • Beef and vegetable row crops, such as leafy vegetables, were responsible for more than 80 percent of E. coli O157 illnesses.
  • Illnesses associated with Salmonella were linked to a wide number of types of foods, with seeded vegetables (such as tomatoes), sprouts, fruits, eggs, poultry, beef and pork responsible for 77 percent of illnesses.
  • Dairy foods, most often raw milk or cheese produced from raw milk (such as unpasteurized queso fresco) were responsible for 66 percent of illnesses related to Campylobacter, and chicken was responsible for 8 percent of illnesses.
  • Half of illnesses from Listeria were caused by fruits and another 31 percent were caused by dairy foods. The researchers cautioned, however, that the high proportion of illnesses linked to fruits are due to a single large outbreak from cantaloupes in 2011.

For any type of foodborne disease, people who are most at risk for serious illness include young children, older adults, pregnant women and anyone with a condition that affects the immune system, such as diabetes, cancer, AIDS or an organ transplant. To reduce the risk, take common-sense precautions, including:

  • Know safe minimum cooking temperatures. Ground beef should be cooked to 160 degrees F, poultry (whole or ground) to 165 degrees, and pork to 145 degrees plus a three-minute rest period. Use a meat thermometer to be sure.
  • Avoid foods that are known to put you at high risk, such as raw milk or foods that have been recalled due to a food safety issue.
  • Wash hands and surfaces thoroughly and often when preparing and serving food.
  • Keep raw meat and fish, which could harbor bacteria that would be eliminated during cooking, away from fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Chill perishable foods properly. Don’t let them sit at room temperature for more than two hours.

For more guidance, see the CDC website at cdc.gov/foodsafety/prevention.html.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

What foods are most problematic when it comes to foodborne illness?

While an estimated 48 million Americans become sick and 3,000 die each year due to foodborne illness, many of those cases can’t be traced to a specific source. So, to answer questions like yours, authorities recently examined outbreaks caused by a known pathogen, which account for roughly 9 million illnesses and 1,000  fatalities annually.

The report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service identified foods associated with four major foodborne pathogens: Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157, Listeria monocytogenes and Camplyobacter. They focused on these four bugs in part because of the frequency and severity of the illnesses they cause.

The report looked at foodborne illness outbreaks between 1998 and 2012, giving greater weight to those that occurred most recently, since 2008. Among the findings:

  • Beef and vegetable row crops, such as leafy vegetables, were responsible for more than 80 percent of E. coli O157 illnesses.
  • Illnesses associated with Salmonella were linked to a wide number of types of foods, with seeded vegetables (such as tomatoes), sprouts, fruits, eggs, poultry, beef and pork responsible for 77 percent of illnesses.
  • Dairy foods, most often raw milk or cheese produced from raw milk (such as unpasteurized queso fresco) were responsible for 66 percent of illnesses related to Campylobacter, and chicken was responsible for 8 percent of illnesses.
  • Half of illnesses from Listeria were caused by fruits and another 31 percent were caused by dairy foods. The researchers cautioned, however, that the high proportion of illnesses linked to fruits are due to a single large outbreak from cantaloupes in 2011.

For any type of foodborne disease, people who are most at risk for serious illness include young children, older adults, pregnant women and anyone with a condition that affects the immune system, such as diabetes, cancer, AIDS or an organ transplant. To reduce the risk, take common-sense precautions, including:

  • Know safe minimum cooking temperatures. Ground beef should be cooked to 160 degrees F, poultry (whole or ground) to 165 degrees, and pork to 145 degrees plus a three-minute rest period. Use a meat thermometer to be sure.
  • Avoid foods that are known to put you at high risk, such as raw milk or foods that have been recalled due to a food safety issue.
  • Wash hands and surfaces thoroughly and often when preparing and serving food.
  • Keep raw meat and fish, which could harbor bacteria that would be eliminated during cooking, away from fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Chill perishable foods properly. Don’t let them sit at room temperature for more than two hours.

For more guidance, see the CDC website at cdc.gov/foodsafety/prevention.html.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, food safety specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

For a PDF version of this column, please click here.