Foodborne disease, or food poisoning, can be caused by multiple sources, such as bacteria, allergens and mold. Sadly, as a pregnant mama-to-be, you're at a much greater risk of contracting food poisoning. In fact, according to the Center of Disease Control (CDC), 2,500 people become seriously ill due to listeria annually, 500 of all infected people will die and pregnant women account for 27% of these cases. Basically if you're pregnant, you’re 20 times more likely to become infected with the Listeria bacteria than folks in the general population. Your unborn baby is even more at risk. While adults exposed to food illness usually only experience flu-like symptoms, babies who are exposed to listeria via their mother may develop listeriosis, a serious infection that can result in miscarriage, premature birth, or severe illness or death of a newborn. Obviously, you want to have a safe and healthy pregnancy, so food safety should be a key priority. Keep reading for tips about how to practice food safety in an eco-friendly manner.
Wash Your Hands Clean & Green
Washing your hands before you prep and cook food is mostly common sense, but you should make sure you’re washing up correctly and as green as you can. For safety, wash before you start food prep and in-between handling different food items, such as meat and veggies. To keep it green, skip the antibacterial soap. According to Beyond Pesticides and even the CDC and World Health Organization, there’s zero evidence that antibacterial soap is necessary in a home setting. Studies have linked triclosan (pdf), a common ingredient in antibacterial soap, to a range of health and environmental problems, from skin irritation, allergy susceptibility, bacterial and compounded antibiotic resistant, and dioxin contamination to destruction of aquatic ecosystems. The key is to scrub with hot water and basic soap for a longer period – sing Happy Birthday as you wash – if it works for kids it can work for you. Turn the water off to conserve resources while you scrub and use cloth, not paper towels to dry your hands.
Go Organic & Fresh
When you’re pregnant, all the food you eat also goes to your baby, so, you don’t want harmful pesticides, chemicals and other icky stuff in your diet. Sadly, most pregnant women are stuffed with chemicals that can cause all sorts of health problems, such as learning disabilities, autism, low birth weight and even breastfeeding problems after your baby arrives, plus much more. The best way to avoid artificial food colors, pesticides, GMOs and other gross food additives is to go organic and eat fresh foods as much as possible. USDA certified organic foods are best during pregnancy because they cannot contain fake food colors, obnoxious chemical preservatives and they have lower pesticide levels. Fresh foods are preferable because they’re not linked to BPA and other preservatives, like canned foods and processed foods are. Learn more in the links below:
Wash & Peel Food Correctly
All produce should be washed correctly before you prepare and eat it, even organic foods. After washing your own hands, rinse all fruits and veggies in clean running water (without soap or other chemical cleaners) to remove any visible dirt and grime. Always remove and discard, or compost, the outer layers of leafy green produce such as spinach, before washing and prepping. Foods with rinds, such as oranges or melons should be washed before you cut them up. All tough skinned produce, like melons or cucumbers should be scrubbed with a clean produce brush. If you’re not buying organic, then you need to peel your fruits and veggies, as pesticide contaminates are more likely to reside in the peel. Also, after washing, cut away any damaged or bruised areas of produce. Make sure that food preparation area and sink where you’re washing is also kept clean. Note, according to FoodSafety, bagged “pre-washed” produce is safe to use right out of the bag, without further washing.
Avoid Danger Foods
Pregnancy is not the time to indulge all your cravings. Many food products pose a major listeria risk to you and your unborn baby. Key food items to avoid include soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, Camembert and goat cheese, raw or under-cooked eggs, uncooked sprouts, raw deli meats, refrigerated pates or meat spreads, refrigerated smoked seafood plus any food product made with unpasteurized milk. Make sure that any dairy product you eat says, “pasteurized” on the label and be aware that listeria can also be found in foods such as hot dogs, luncheon meats, or deli meats unless they are properly reheated to steaming ( or 160 degrees F.)
You also may be wondering about fish. Your shouldn’t eat raw fish (sorry sushi fans) while pregnant, but a Harvard Medical School study reports that it’s perfectly fine to eat fish if you’re pregnant and it may even make your baby smarter. However, you do need to eat fully cooked, low mercury fish. The National Report Defense Council notes that the following are good low mercury fish choices: Flounder, Haddock, Butterfish, Catfish, Crab (Domestic), Salmon (Fresh), Shrimp, Tilapia, Trout (Freshwater) and many more. See the full list.
Prep Food Right & Cook Food to the Proper Temperature
The basics of prepping food correctly, according to FoodSafety, are wash, separate, cook and chill. We covered washing above, but separation is also very important. Use different cutting boards for different foods. For example, use one cutting board only for produce, another for eggs and cheese and another for meat and fish only. Even the best cutting boards, washed well, can harbor small particles, so you don’t want to mix it up. Architec makes a recycled cutting board in three colors that works well for kitchen tasks. When cooking, be sure to use a thermometer to measure the internal temperature of meat so you’re sure it has been cooked enough to kill bacteria. Eggs should be cooked until the yolk is firm. If you usually cook with a microwave, be sure to cook foods to 165? or higher to get rid of bacteria. The last step is food storage, use eco-friendly food storage, such as glass, stainless steel or BPA-free plastic and always put perishable foods into the fridge or freezer within two hours, except for on hot days. On hot days food should be stored within one hour. If you take a packed lunch to work, use a ton of ice packs. Research shows that 90% of all packed lunches are kept at unsafe temperatures. Learn more in the links below:
Follow Food Recalls
From listeria to Salmonella to undeclared allergens, plenty of food products are recalled each year due to one health concern or another. Foods such as eggs, spinach, various meat products and even fruit as non-sinister as cantaloupe have been recalled recently, and that’s just off the top of my head. Many more products are recalled each year, even organic and natural food products. It pays to follow recall information. Even if you’re not pregnant, signing up for free FDA recall emails about food is a smart idea.
Know the Signs of Food Poisoning
When you’re pregnant, it can be hard to notice the signs of food poisoning, especially if you have severe morning sickness to contend with. However, it’s smart to pay attention to your symptoms, because there are subtle differences. Harmful bacteria are usually the cause of food poisoning, but other causes such as viruses, parasites, mold, allergens, toxins and contaminants may also be the issue. Listeriosis symptoms tend to show up 2-30 days after exposure to poisoned food and are most common during the third trimester, which should help you differentiate symptoms from morning sickness. You may experience headaches, muscle aches, fever, nausea and/or vomiting. If you don’t get treatment and the infection spreads you may experience a stiff neck, disorientation, or convulsions. Other food poisoning culprits like Salmonella and Campylobacter can cause symptoms such as diarrhea (bloody diarrhea too), fever, sore throat, enlarged lymph nodes in the head and neck, abdominal cramps, vomiting, stomach pain and more. Worst of all, if you’re experiencing these symptoms your baby may be exposed as well. If any of these symptoms pop up, You should always seek medical attention right away, just to be on the safe side.
Lead Image via the CDC @James Gathany