Food Safety Tips for Pregnant Women

Because during pregnancy it harder for your body to fight off germs, you and your growing baby are at higher risk for illnesses caused by eating improperly prepared, cooked, and stored food.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends some steps to avoid becoming sick with foodborne illnesses (food poisoning).

    1. Do not defrost food at room temperature.  

    • Thaw food in the refrigerator.

    • For quick thawing, submerge food in cold water in airtight packaging, or thaw food in the microwave if you’ll be cooking it immediately.

    2. Clean

    • Wash hands and surfaces thoroughly with warm water and soap before and after handling food.
    • Rinse raw fruits and vegetables under running water.

    3. Separate

    • Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from ready-to-eat foods.  
    • Use one cutting board for raw meats, poultry, and seafood AND A SEPARATE cutting board for fresh fruits and vegetables.
    • Do not place cooked food on unwashed plates.

    4. Cook

    • Cook foods thoroughly.
    • Use a food thermometer to check the temperature. Refer to a  meat and poultry cooking chart for the recommended cooking times.

    5. Chill

    • Refrigerate promptly. Your refrigerator should be set at 40° F (4° C) or below and the freezer at 0° F (-18° C).
    • Keep leftovers for no longer than 3 days and reheat them to an internal temperature of 74°C (165°F) before eating.
    • 2-Hour Rule: Discard foods left out at room temperature for more than two hours.

Unpasteurized Foods

In addition to the above steps do not eat foods that have not been pasteurized such as soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk and mayonnaise or sauces like béarnaise and hollandaise made with uncooked eggs. These foods may contain disease causing bacteria such as Listeria or Salmonella. Pasteurized foods have been heated to a temperature that kills these harmful germs without affecting the taste or quality of the food.


Fish and seafood can be an important part of a balanced diet for pregnant women. Nonetheless, some large fish contain high levels of a form of mercury that may potentially harm an unborn baby's developing nervous system. The EPA and FDA advise pregnant women or women who may become pregnant to avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish due to high levels of mercury in these fish. You can still choose from a variety of fish and seafood low in mercury such as canned tuna, salmon, pollock, catfish, tilapia, herring ,crab, shrimp, clams and oysters. Just make sure that these foods are thoroughly cooked. Uncooked seafood may contain Listeria, Vibrio, hepatitis A virus, or Norwalk virus.

Holiday Foods


Soft cheeses or ice cream made from unpasteurized milk aren't the only foods that may contain the bacteria Listeria . Do not eat refrigerated pâtés, meat spreads, smoked fish, deli meats, hot dogs, or raw sprouts (especially alfalfa) . Its ability to grow at temperatures as low as 3°C allows Listeria to multiply in these refrigerated foods.


It is best to avoid homemade eggnog which is usually made with unpasteurized eggs that may contain Salmonella. You can make a safe alcohol free version at home with a pasteurized egg product. Pasteurized store-bought eggnog is also available.

Turkey and Stuffing

Improperly handled or undercooked poultry is a common cause of Campylobacter and Salmonella food poisoning.

Whole turkey should be cooked in an oven at  325 degrees F until it reaches an internal temperature of 180 degrees F deep in the thickest part of the inner thigh (use a meat thermometer to check it ).

The safest way to cook stuffing is in a a separate baking dish in a 325 °F oven. If you choose to stuff your turkey, fill the cavity just before cooking. Fill the cavities loosely. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the stuffing. The center of the stuffing should reach at least 165°F whether it is in a baking dish or in the turkey.

Refrigerate stuffing and turkey separately in shallow containers within 2 hours of cooking. Use leftover turkey and stuffing within 3-4 days or freeze these foods. Reheat thoroughly to a temperature of 165 °F or until hot and steaming.

Those Other Holiday Meats

Use a food thermometer to determine that meats reach a safe minimum internal temperature.  Raw or undercooked meat, especially pork, lamb, or venison may contain the parasite Toxoplasma gondii .

Alcoholic Beverages

A sip of champagne at midnight on New Year's Eve is unlikely to harm your developing baby. Beyond that it is best to avoid alcohol during pregnancy since the amount of alcohol that will not harm developing baby is not known.

Tips for Pregnant Women with Diabetes or on Diets

If you have diabetes, or have been instructed by your physician to limit your weight gain during pregnancy you may find it a challenge to remain faithful to your diet during the Holidays. Here are some tips to help keep you on track:

  • Prepare foods in ways that reduce fat content such as steaming instead of sautéing in butter.
  • Use reduced fat ingredients such as low fat milk, or reduce the amount of sugar or oil in a recipe.
  • Eat smaller portions
  • Be selective about what you eat. Eat the foods that only come around once a year, and pass on the foods that are available year round.
  • If you have diabetes ask your diabetes educator about  increasing your insulin dose or exercise after eating so that you may eat certain Holiday foods.



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