Prevent Foodborne Illness & Food Poisoning

Pregnant Woman Preparing Food Image

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women who are pregnant are about 13 times more likely to get a rare, serious foodborne infection called listeriosis (or listerosis) than the general population. Listeriosis is caused by Listeria monocytogenes—bacteria present in contaminated soil and the intestines of infected animals.

Meningitis (infection of the membranes of the brain or spinal cord) is the most common manifestation of listeriosis in adults. Most people have a high degree of resistance to the bacteria that cause listeriosis, but in expectant mothers, infection can be transmitted through the placenta to the unborn baby—resulting in spontaneous abortion or other severe complications. When listeriosis infection occurs in a newborn, it's often fatal—especially during the first few days of life.

Other foodborne illnesses can also cause serious health problems during pregnancy—both for the expectant mother and her unborn baby. Pregnancy weakens the mother-to-be's immune system (which helps fight infections), and a baby's immune system doesn't fully develop for several months after birth, increasing the risk.

The following tips can help reduce foodborne illness risk in women who are pregnant:

  • Wash your hands often, especially before eating and drinking, when preparing food, and after touching raw meat, uncooked eggs or unwashed vegetables.
  • Don't share food, eating utensils or cups—especially with young children. When you're in close contact with or caring for young children, wash your hands frequently.
  • Avoid undercooked meat and processed meats like hot dogs and deli meat. Use a meat thermometer to make sure meat is well done (an internal temperature above 160°, depending on the type).
  • Avoid raw (unpasteurized) milk and milk products, including unpasteurized soft cheeses like feta, brie and queso fresco, and eggnog during the holiday season.

For more information about food safety and preventing foodborne illness, please read What Is Food Poisoning?

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 10 Dec 2012

Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012