ImageThe U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food Drug Administration (FDA) are on a mission. One in six Americans become sick each year from food poisoning (aka foodborne illness) and pregnant women are quite susceptible of becoming victims. Why? Because the immune system of pregnant women is lowered thereby making them at risk for developing infections. Specifically, they are at risk for developing illnesses that are associated with Listeria Monocytogenes and Toxoplasma gondii.

Listeria causes a form of food illness called Listeriosis that can cause a miscarriage, premature deliveries, serious illness or death of a newborn. Each year, 2,500 Americans become ill from listeriosis and one out of five cases result in death. Unfortunately one-third of listeriosis occurs during pregnancy. Foods associated with listeriosis can grow slowly at refrigerator temperatures. Such foods include: improperly cooked hot dogs, luncheon meats, cold cuts, fermented or dry sausages and other deli-style meat and poultry.  Raw (unpasteurized) milk and soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk are also culprits as well as smoked seafood and salads made in the store such as ham, chicken or seafood salads as well as raw vegetables. Symptoms of listeriosis include fever, chills, headache, backache, occasional upset stomach, abdominal pain and diarrhea. It may take up to 2 months to become ill.

Toxoplasmosis is a parasite found in raw or undercooked meat as well as cat litter boxes and other areas where cat feces can be found. It can cause hearing loss, mental retardation and blindness in babies. It can also cause miscarriages and birth defects. Its symptoms include flu-like symptoms that usually appear 10 to 13 days after eating and may last for months.

How can pregnant women avoid getting these foodborne illnesses? By following the four basic steps to food safety: clean, separate, cook and chill food during and after preparation. Wash hands and surfaces often. Use paper towels to clean kitchen surfaces. Rinse fruits and vegetables. Clean lids before opening cans. Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs from other foods in your grocery shopping cart, grocery bags and in your refrigerator. Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat. Use a food thermometer when cooking meat and refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs seafood and other perishables within 2 hours of cooking or purchasing. Refrigerate within 1 hour if the temperature outside ifs above 90°F.

For further information, please contact AskKaren.gov that is a virtual assistant funded by the FDA. www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/HealthEducators/ucm081785.htm is another great resource regarding food safety for pregnant moms.

Remember, a healthy pregnancy doesn’t just happen. It takes a smart mother who knows what to do.

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