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Pregnancy and Food Poisoning

Food poisoning can be particularly harmful when contracted during pregnancy.

Pregnant women may have relatively mild symptoms (fever and aches) and make a quick recovery, or they may transfer the infection to their unborn child, who may then be stillborn or born very ill. In order to protect the fetus, pregnant women should take special care to avoid foods that may be contaminated.

Food poisoning often starts as a flulike illness with fever and chills, and may be accompanied by nausea or diarrhea, abdominal cramps, or dehydration. Severe cases can include an unusually painful headache and stiff neck. Contact your doctor if you develop any of these symptoms. If a pregnant woman is diagnosed and treated promptly with antibiotics, miscarriage and stillbirth can often be prevented.

Follow these guidelines to prevent food poisoning:

  • Don't buy any food past its "sell by" date or with damaged packaging.
  • Avoid unpasteurized milk and foods made from it.
  • Keep meat and dairy refrigerated at or below 40 degrees.
  • Make sure your hands are clean before handling food.
  • Wash raw vegetables.
  • Marinate and thaw food in the fridge, not on the counter.
  • Don't serve raw eggs or foods that contain them. If you must make Caesar salad dressing, mayonnaise, eggnog, or hollandaise sauce, use pasteurized eggs or an egg substitute in place of fresh eggs.
  • Cook meats and seafood thoroughly. Make sure the cooked meat is gray or brown throughout (not pink), juices run clear, and the inside is hot.
  • Make sure food is served as soon as possible after preparation.
  • Cook leftover or ready-to-eat foods (such as hot dogs) until steaming hot. Hot dogs should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Refrigeration doesn't prevent the bacteria from multiplying.
  • Although the risk associated with deli foods is low, pregnant women should avoid deli meats.

Additional reporting by Richard Schwarz, MD

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.