FOOD SAFETY AND FOODBORNE ILLNESS

Food safety and foodborne illnesses

Foodborne infections can cause illness in you and your unborn baby. Certain infections can cause miscarriage, premature labour and stillbirth. To reduce the risk of infections from food, be sure to:

  • Wash hands before and after preparing food, before eating and after contact with animals.
  • Consume only meats, fish and poultry (including eggs) that are fully cooked.
  • Avoid unpasteurised dairy products
  • Thoroughly rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water before eating.
  • Avoid eating raw sprouts (including alfalfa, clover, radish and mung beans) as bacteria can get into sprout seeds through cracks in the shell and is virtually impossible to wash out.
  • Wash hands, food-preparation surfaces, cutting boards, dishes and utensils that come in contact with raw meat, poultry or fish with hot soapy water.

Listeria

Unlike most bacteria, listeria still replicates at refrigerator temperature. This means that pre-prepared, chilled, ready-to-eat food is a potential source. Ideally you should eat only freshly cooked food and well-washed, freshly prepared fruit and vegetables. Leftovers can be eaten if they are refrigerated promptly and kept no longer than a day.

The following chilled, ready-to-eat foods should be avoided as much as possible:

  • Soft cheeses, such as brie and ricotta
  • Cold cooked chicken, cold processed meats and pâté
  • Prepared cold salads
  • Raw seafood
  • Soft-serve ice-cream
  • Unpasteurised dairy products
  • Foods such as pate, soft cheeses, coleslaw, unwashed vegetables, processed meats (unless cooked) and raw or smoked seafood may rarely contain the bacteria Listeria. It is also wise to avoid any food that is only partially reheated.

Toxoplasmosis

While uncommon in pregnant women in this country, infection with this parasite can occur if you eat undercooked meats or unwashed fruit and vegetables (particularly from gardens where cats visit). Most commonly, however, infection is caused by ingesting this parasite, which gets onto your hands after you come into contact with animal faeces (particularly cat faeces) from the cat-litter tray or from gardens or farms.

It is particularly important to avoid toxoplasmosis during pregnancy as it can lead to brain damage or blindness in your unborn child. This infection does not often cause any symptoms in adults.

Tips for avoiding Toxoplasmosis:

  • Don’t eat undercooked or raw meat.
  • Get someone else to change the cat-litter tray, or wash your hands well after changing the tray.
  • Wear gloves when gardening, and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
  • Always wash your hands well after touching animals, and before preparing or eating food.

Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis (gastro) is an illness triggered by the infection and inflammation of the digestive system. Symptoms include abdominal cramps, vomiting and diarrhoea. Gastroenteritis can be caused by viruses, bacteria, bacterial toxins, parasites, particular chemicals and some drugs.

The main complication of gastroenteritis is dehydration, but this can be prevented if the fluid lost in vomit and diarrhoea is replaced. Try sipping cool, clear fluids such as water, apple juice, flat lemonade or cordial. Some people find sucking frozen Icy Poles a good way to take fluid. Oral rehydration sachets can be bought from a pharmacy.

Your unborn baby will not usually be affected by you not eating for a few days, but contact us if you become dehydrated or are unable to keep down any fluids for more than 12 hours, as you may need admission to the Hospital for IV fluids.

© Dr Sahar