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Bacteria Risks and Pregnancy
by Alan Greene, MD

There are certain microscopic bacteria that can pose special health risks to pregnant women and to their babies. Although most people can safely eat food containing a type of bacteria called Listeria, pregnant women are ten times more likely to get sick if they eat those same foods. And if they do get sick, the infection can be devastating for the baby. The tricky thing about Listeria is that, unlike many bacteria, they can thrive at refrigerator temperatures. To be sure, avoid the following foods during pregnancy:

  • Soft cheeses such as Brie, Camembert, feta, and Mexican queso fresco, or any cheeses with blue veins. Most hard cheeses are fine, as are pasteurized cream cheese, cottage cheese, cheese spreads, sliced cheese and yogurt.

  • Foods from deli counters (prepared salads, meats, and cheeses), unless they are heated to steaming right before eating.

  • Hot dogs, packaged cold cuts, meat spreads, pate, smoked seafood, and leftovers, unless they are heated to steaming right before eating. Canned or shelf-stable products are generally fine.

  • Raw or unpasteurized milk during pregnancy, including goat's milk, and foods that contain unpasteurized milk. Raw and partially cooked eggs, meat, and poultry can harbor other unwanted visitors.
In addition to Listeria, be cautious about E. coli, salmonella, and Toxoplasma by doing the following:
  • Cook ground beef until no pink is visible, and be sure pork and lamb are well done. For turkey or other poultry, cook thoroughly to 180 F (with a thermometer).

  • Cook eggs until both the whites and the yolks are firm. Soft scrambled eggs aren't a pregnancy treat.

  • Remember hidden sources of raw or partially cooked eggs, such as cookie dough, unpasteurized eggnog and Hollandaise sauce.

  • You've heard not to change kitty litter during pregnancy to avoid Toxoplasma. This is good advice, but pregnant women can also pick up Toxoplasma from unpasteurized milk and undercooked meats. Be sure milk is pasteurized and meats are cooked to at least 150 degrees F.

  • Even if cooked food is safe, microorganisms can still live on hands or utensils while cooking. Wash before and after handling raw foods. Always wash cutting boards, kitchen surfaces and utensils after use.

About the Author:
Dr. Alan GreeneDr. Alan Greene, author of Raising Baby Greene, is a graduate of Princeton University and the University of California San Francisco. He is a Clinical Professor at Stanford University's Packard Children's Hospital. In addition to being the founder of, he is the Chief Medical Officer of A.D.A.M., and the Pediatric Expert for WebMD. He is the Chair of The Organic Center and on the Advisory Board of Healthy Child Healthy World. Dr. Greene appears frequently on TV, radio, websites, and in print including appearances on The Today Show, Fox and Friends, The Wall Street Journal, Parents Magazine, and US Weekly.

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