Listeria exposure during pregnancy can cause problems

Tips to help pregnant women avoid a possible Listeria infection.

If you or someone you know is pregnant, you must be especially careful to stay healthy. Pregnant women are susceptible to getting sick from Listeria, as a woman’s hormones change to prevent the rejection of the fetus through the maternal immune system. Changes in hormones and inflammatory response can cause pregnant women to be more sensitive to certain infections.

Foodborne illness can be worse during pregnancy and can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or a premature delivery. Listeria is a foodborne illness that pregnant women are ten times more susceptible than the general population. Symptoms are similar to the flu and can include fever, muscle aches, headaches and diarrhea. Pregnant women may not exhibit symptoms of Listeria but can pass the infection onto their unborn baby. The bacterium Listeria is commonly found in the intestines of humans and animals, soil and water. The bacteria can also be found in raw milk and foods made from raw milk.

Here are some guidelines to use during pregnancy to help avoid Listeria infection:

  • Wash all fruits and vegetables with running water before use. This includes foods with inedible skins, like cantaloupe and avocado. Cutting through them can transfer bacteria from the skin of fruits and vegetables into the flesh.
  • Cook foods thoroughly (especially those containing eggs, meat, chicken or fish) to their minimum internal temperatures.
  • Avoid hot dogs, deli meats and cold cuts unless they are heated until steaming hot or 165 degrees Fahrenheit before serving.
  • Avoid any pre-made meat or seafood salads.
  • Avoid unpasteurized milk and foods made from unpasteurized milk, including soft cheeses such as feta, brie and camembert.
  • Leftovers should be refrigerated within 2 hours, and used within 3-4 days. The refrigerator should be kept at 41 F or lower, and the freezer should be at 0 F.

If you would like more information about food safety, contact your local Michigan State University Extension office.

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