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.

Keep watch on pregnancy pounds

160498927My daughter-in-law is pregnant but doesn’t seem to be gaining much weight. She is pleased, but I’m concerned. Should I be?

You don’t say how far along in her pregnancy your daughter-in-law is, but you should know that doctors generally recommend women gain only 1 to 4 pounds total during the first three months, and then 2 to 4 pounds per month until birth.

However, guidance varies depending on the circumstances. For example, teens who are pregnant are encouraged to gain more weight, as their own bodies are still developing. And a woman’s pre-pregnancy weight plays a major role: According to the Insitute of Medicine, women at a normal weight for their height should gain 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy. Underweight women should gain more, 28 to 40 pounds. Overweight women should gain less, 15 to 25 pounds, and obese women should limit weight gain to 11 to 20 pounds.

Gaining a proper amount of weight during pregnancy — not too much and not too little — is good for both mother and baby. It will decrease the chance of premature birth and Caesarean section, and increases the chance of a healthy newborn. In addition, gaining too much weight during pregnancy often causes long-term weight problems, not only for mom but for the child as well.

That’s why “eating for two” is a horrible misnomer. Most women need only about 300 additional calories per day during pregnancy. For the most part, those calories should be nutrient-rich choices, from whole grains, lean protein and dairy, fruits, vegetables, and healthful fats. It’s especially important for pregnant women to get enough folic acid (400 micrograms a day), iron (27 milligrams a day) and calcium (1,000 milligrams a day) for a healthy pregnancy.

There are plenty of resources to help guide your daughter-in-law to eat right for both herself and her baby. A good place to start is the National Institutes of Health “MedlinePlus” website, http://medlineplus.gov. Just type “Pregnancy and Nutrition” in the search engine and you’ll find reliable information from a myriad of resources, including the National Academy of Dietetics, the Mayo Clinic, the Nemours Foundation and the March of Dimes.

The most important concern is to make sure your daughter-in-law is getting proper prenatal care. As long as she’s seeing her doctor regularly, and they both are keeping an eye on her weight gain and other health issues, you can rest easy.

Chow Line is a service of 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, 43210-1044, or filipic.3@osu.edu.