Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy
There are foods to avoid during pregnancy and foods to be careful of. In a nutshell, all food intake by pregnant moms should be thoroughly cooked – even pre-cooked ham, hot dogs and other meats should be reheated to 165° F (or steaming hot before eating). Unpasteurized juices and dairy products are other no-nos. Make sure all milk and cheeses are pasteurized – including milk and eggs in ice cream. Farmer’s markets many times sell a variety of juices that are not pasteurized – but you should avoid freshly squeezed juices. As for eggs, the yolks need to be cooked until they are firm, and dishes that contain eggs such as casseroles and egg salads also need to be cooked to 160° F. (There are now some grocery stores that sell pasteurized eggs in the shell. These eggs are deemed safe from salmonella and any other harmful bacteria that might be present.)
Other egg products that moms-to-be should avoid are eggnog, mousse, ice cream, meringue, cookie or cake batter, dressing and sauces made with raw eggs. These would include mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce, béarnaise sauce and Caesar salad dressing.
So what about salads? Do we need to cook our vegetables? Fortunately, washing vegetables with water is sufficient. However pre-washed salads needs to be washed again. Two exceptions that need to be cooked include sprouts such as alfalfa and mung beans. This is necessary because bacteria can get into the plant seeds through the cracks, and it is impossible to wash them out. So pregnant women should stay away from sprouts unless they are cooked. (Restaurants often add sprouts to salads and sandwiches, so ask them not to put them in when ordering.) It is also a wise practice to cut away bruised or damaged produce since bacteria can thrive in these areas.
The skin of fruits should be washed thoroughly regardless of whether they are organic or not. Even the skins of melons should be washed and even scrubbed because of possible contamination when the knife cuts into the fruit. Although the FDA has deemed all produce in the market safe, every year the Environmental Working Group releases the top 12 produce with the highest levels of pesticides and the top 15 produce with the lowest levels.
It may be prudent to buy organic fruits and vegetables listed in the “dirty dozen”. Regardless of whether they are members of the “dirty dozen” or the “clean 15,” it is still important to wash them before eating because organic produce does not always mean safe or clean. In fact, organic produce may even harbor a greater number of bacteria from the “natural” fertilizers that farmers use.
The FDA has laid out a simple four-step process for food safety: clean, separate, cook, and chill.
(Click the picture below to download a PDF for a more comprehensive explanation of food safety.)
One important guideline is the “two-hour rule.” The two-hour rule warns us to discard foods left out at room temperature for more than two hours. Bacteria usually grow between temperatures of 40~140° F – also known as the danger zone. If the temperature where the food is left is greater than 90° F, then it should be discarded after one hour.
There are some additional safety precautions regarding dining out when pregnant. The best practice is to avoid buffets. Although most establishments have strict guidelines on food temperatures within their food warmers, sometimes mistakes happen where there is malfunction of equipment or even poor handling of the food. As for doggie bags, if you are not going home directly then it is best to give them a pass.
There is one type of food that many pregnant women already know to avoid and unfortunately it is fish. It is not recommended to eat king mackerel, swordfish, shark and tilefish due to high levels of methylmercury in these fish. (Methylmercury is toxic to unborn babies and can interfere with the developing nervous system.) Meanwhile, there are lower-risk-level alternatives such as salmon and pollock of which the FDA recommends no more than 12 oz. per week. Also for albacore tuna in the can, no more than 6 oz is recommended.
Avoiding fish is unfortunate because fish contains DHA. THis substance is a very important supplement for a pregnant woman’s diet as there are numerous studies on the benefit of DHA on the developing brain of a child. Thankfully, there are DHA vitamin supplements that can bolster a diet without fish.
There is one more thing – absolutely no alcohol should be consumed by pregnant women. Simply put, no amount of alcohol is considered safe for a childbearing woman. Furthermore, alcohol should be avoided during breastfeeding as well.
1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Food Safety for Pregnant Women. http://www.foodsafety.gov/poisoning/risk/pregnant/index.html
2. Food and Drug Administration. Food Safety for Moms-to-be. http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/HealthEducators/ucm081785.htm
3. Environmental Working Group. EWG’s 2012 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary/