Keep food poisoning off the menu this summer

June 30, 2021

It’s summer cookout season! You’ve probably looked forward to eating your favorite summer foods—like grilled meats, hot dogs and potato salad—all year long. It’s important to be aware of what safety measures to take to ensure all the foods you eat during summer cookouts are safe to enjoy.

Can food poisoning harm your baby?

When people eat foods that have been contaminated with some types of bacteria (germs), viruses or parasites, they can get food poisoning (called foodborne illness).

Pregnant people are at high risk of getting food poisoning because pregnancy affects the immune system’s ability to fight foodborne infections. Before they are born, babies are just beginning to develop immune systems and have trouble fighting off foodborne diseases. So when you protect yourself from foodborne infections during pregnancy, you are also protecting your baby.

Listeriosis is a kind of food poisoning caused by Listeria bacteria. During pregnancy, you can pass the bacteria to your baby. This can cause problems, including miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm labor, low birthweight or life-threatening infections in your baby. In addition, babies infected with listeriosis may have problems after they are born, including intellectual disabilities, paralysis, seizures, blindness or problems with the brain, heart or kidneys.

During pregnancy, stay away from foods that can cause listeriosis, such as:

  • Unpasteurized milk, juice and foods made with it. If milk or juice is pasteurized, it’s been heated to kill germs. Look for the word “pasteurized” on the label.
  • Soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk, such as feta, Brie, Camembert, Roquefort and Mexican-style cheeses, such as queso fresco, queso blanco, Panela and Asadero. Cheese made with pasteurized milk is safe to eat.
  • Uncooked or room temperature deli meat, dry sausages, hot dogs (including their juices)
  • Raw seafood, including sushi, sashimi, oysters, clams, scallops and ceviche. You may eat these foods if they are cooked to 145 F (62.8 C)
  • Unwashed fruits, vegetables and raw sprouts, such as radishes, alfafa, clover and mung bean. It’s Ok to eat these cooked, until they are steaming hot.
  • Refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads (Canned meat spreads are safe.)
  • Refrigerated smoked seafood, including nova-style, lox, kippered, smoked and jerky

Salmonellosis is a kind of food poisoning caused by Salmonella bacteria. Salmonellosis can cause problems during pregnancy, including dehydration, bacteria in the blood (bacteremia), meningitis and arthritis.

You can pass salmonellosis to your baby during pregnancy. If your baby is born with salmonellosis, they may have diarrhea and fever after birth. They also may develop meningitis.

During pregnancy, stay away from foods that can cause salmonellosis, such as:

  • Raw or undercooked poultry, meat or fish. Cooking these items fully kills Salmonella.
  • Raw or undercooked eggs and foods made with them, such as runny eggs, or homemade mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce, Caesar salad dressing, cookie dough, eggnog, frostings and ice cream.
  • Uncooked flour, including raw cookie dough, cake mix, batter or any other raw dough or batter that is supposed to be cooked or baked.
  • Unpasteurized milk, milk products and juice, or foods made from them. Look for the word “pasteurized” on the product label.
  • Unwashed fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients. Eat plenty during pregnancy, but always wash them.
  • Uncooked vegetable sprouts, such as alfalfa, clover, radish and mung bean.

Toxoplasmosis is an infection you can get from eating undercooked meat. If you get toxoplasmosis just before or during pregnancy, you may pass the infection to your baby even if you don’t have any symptoms. Pregnancy complications caused by toxoplasmosis include preterm birth, stillbirth and miscarriage.

To avoid toxoplasmosis:

  • Don’t eat raw or undercooked meat or shellfish
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before eating or cooking
  • Wash your hands after touching kitchen utensils and cutting boards used to prepare raw or undercooked meat and fruits and vegetables

What else can you do to protect yourself and your baby from food poisoning?

Here’s what you can do:

  • Wash your hands right before handling food. Also, wash your hands well with soap and water after using the bathroom.
  • Wash your hands well with soap and water after touching animals or their food, bedding, tanks or waste.
  • Use paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces, then throw them away. If you use cloth towels, be sure to wash them in very hot water.
  • Handle foods safely whenever you wash, prepare, cook and store them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill system can help protect you and your loved ones from food poisoning.
  • Use a meat thermometer to be sure foods are cooked to the proper temperature. Never taste a food to see if it’s safe to eat.
  • Wash knives, cutting boards and dishes used to prepare raw meat, fish or poultry before using them for other foods. To sanitize cutting boards or countertops, rinse them in a solution made of 1 tablespoon of unscented liquid chlorine bleach and 1 gallon of water.

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