Listeria and Food Safety: What You Need to Know to Stay Safe During Pregnancy

Pregnant and thinking of sitting down for a cold bologna sandwich? You might want to think again!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working with several State Health Departments in investigating a cluster of Listeria infections in southeastern Pennsylvania, New York City, New York State, Maryland, Connecticut and Michigan. All patients were hospitalized and four have died. Federal and state public health officials are working to determine the food that caused these illnesses. These illnesses were first reported in summer 2002, and cases continued to be reported in September.

Listeriosis is a very serious illness, affecting primarily pregnant women, newborns, adults with weakened immune systems and the elderly. The initial symptoms are often fever, muscle aches, and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea. If infection spreads to the nervous system, symptoms such as headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, or convulsions can occur.

Pregnant women may experience only a mild, flu-like illness; however, infections during pregnancy can lead to premature delivery, infection of the newborn or even stillbirth.

To reduce your risk of listeriosis:

  • Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources, such as beef, pork, or poultry.
  • Wash raw vegetables thoroughly before eating.
  • Keep uncooked meats separate from vegetables and from cooked foods and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Avoid raw (unpasteurized) milk or foods made from raw milk, such as unpasteurized cheese.
  • Wash hands, knives, utensils, dishes and cutting boards with hot, soapy water for at least 20 second after handling uncooked foods.
  • Observe all expiration dates for perishable items that are precooked or ready-to-eat.
  • For more information click here.

    Recommendations for pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems, in addition to the recommendations listed above, include:
  • Avoid foods from deli counters, or thoroughly reheat cold cuts before eating.
  • Heat leftovers and ready-to-eat foods, such as hot dogs, until steaming hot just before eating.
  • Avoid soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined and Mexican-style cheese. (Hard cheeses, processed cheeses, cream cheese, cottage cheese, and yogurt need not be avoided.)

    For more information on Listeria:
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Listeriosis and Pregnancy: What is Your Risk?
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Listeriosis: Frequently Asked Questions
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