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How can I avoid food poisoning during pregnancy?

Find out how to avoid food poisoning during pregnancy, including what food you shouldn't eat, common sources of bacteria and how to practise good food hygiene.

You can avoid food poisoning during pregnancy by:

  • not eating some foods – see Why should I avoid some foods during pregnancy? 
  • washing your hands before handling food
  • thoroughly washing all fruit and vegetables, including prepared salads, before eating
  • washing your hands, all surfaces and utensils after preparing raw meat
  • thoroughly cooking raw meat so there is no trace of pink or blood
  • heating ready meals until they are piping hot all the way through – this is especially important for meals containing poultry
  • keeping leftovers covered in the fridge and using them within two days
  • eating food before it has passed its "use by" date
  • preventing cross-contamination (when harmful bacteria is spread between food, surfaces and equipment)

There are several types of bacteria that can cause food poisoning. These include:

  • salmonella 
  • campylobacter
  • listeria
  • E. coli

Salmonella

Salmonella is found in:

  • raw meat and poultry
  • unpasteurised milk 
  • raw eggs and raw egg products

Although salmonella food poisoning is unlikely to harm your baby, it can cause severe diarrhoea and vomiting. 

To reduce your risk of salmonella infection:

  • choose British Lion Code of Practice eggs if you want to have raw or partially cooked eggs – these eggs have a red lion logo stamped on their shell and are considered safe to eat runny
  • avoid raw or partially cooked eggs that are not part of the lion code, and avoid food that may contain them such as homemade mayonnaise – cook these eggs until the whites and yolks are solid 
  • avoid raw or partially cooked meat, especially poultry

Campylobacter

Campylobacter is found in:

  • raw and undercooked meat, especially poultry 
  • unpasteurised milk 
  • untreated water

You can reduce your risk of campylobacter infection by:

  • washing your hands thoroughly before preparing and eating food, and after handling raw food
  • not washing raw poultry
  • keeping cooked food away from raw food
  • cooking food thoroughly, especially meat and poultry, so that it’s piping hot
  • keeping all kitchen surfaces and equipment clean, such as chopping boards and dish cloths
  • not drinking untreated water from lakes, rivers or streams

Listeria

Listeria can cause an infection called listeriosis. Although the infection is rare, even a mild form of listeriosis in a pregnant woman can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or severe illness in newborn babies.

Listeria can be found in unpasteurised milk and in many chilled foods, including:

  • pâté 
  • mould-ripened soft cheeses and soft blue-veined cheeses 
  • cooked sliced meats 
  • smoked salmon

You can reduce your risk of listeriosis by:

  • not eating mould-ripened soft cheeses – such as brie, camembert, chèvre (a type of goats' cheese) and others with a similar rind 
  • not eating soft blue-veined cheeses – such as danish blue, gorgonzola and roquefort 
  • not eating pâté of any kind, including vegetable pâté  
  • not drinking unpasteurised milk – only drink pasteurised or UHT milk 
  • heating ready meals or reheated food until they're piping hot all the way through
  • making sure your fridge is set at 5C or below and working correctly
  • not using food after its "use by" date 
  • eating food taken out of the fridge within four hours  after this time, it should be thrown away

Read the answers to more questions about pregnancy.

Further information:

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