Unpasteurized cheese is important to avoid for a healthy pregnancy.

Every day, patients ask doctors at Fertility Associates of Memphis what NOT to eat during pregnancy to avoid listeria. Listeria is a bacteria that can contaminate food and cause a serious infection, so it is an important public health concern in the U.S. – especially in pregnant women.  In fact, the incidence of listeriosis among pregnant women is approximately 13 times higher than in the general population. Fortunately, the risk of food contamination can be reduced by following recommendations for safe food preparation, consumption, and storage.

The Problem with Listeria

Most of the time, when pregnant women are exposed to bacteria, most of the bad bacteria that may float around a mother’s bloodstream are unable to pass through a barrier that protects the placenta and fetus. For reasons that are still being researched today, the listeria bacteria has a knack for penetrating this barrier, and it can cause significant fetal and maternal complications, including miscarriage, preterm labor, and stillbirth, as well as neonatal listeriosis and possible neonatal death. Recent recalls of listeria-contaminated food products have highlighted the potential for pregnant women to be exposed to the bacteria.

Healthy Eating While You’re Pregnant

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recently published updated food guidelines for pregnant women and women trying to conceive.

One rule of thumb for avoiding listeria (and other bacteria in general) is to stay away from foods that have a higher chance of growing bacteria. One big group to avoid is unpasteurized dairy and other foods. These tend to be more common in imported dairy products. Deli meats that have been sitting out for a while are another classic offender. Fish that are high in mercury content should also be avoided, like king mackerel, swordfish, tilefish, shark, and tuna.

ACOG recently released an updated list of foods that may be a breeding ground for bacteria.  These include:

  • hot dogs, lunch meats, or cold cuts served cold or heated to less than 165 degrees;
  • refrigerated pâté and meat spreads;
  • refrigerated smoked seafood;
  • raw (unpasteurized) milk; unpasteurized soft cheeses, such as feta, queso blanco, Brie, and blue-veined cheeses; and
  • unwashed raw produce (when eating raw fruits and vegetables, skin should be washed thoroughly in running tap water, even if it will be peeled or cut).

With so many dietary restrictions floating around, it is sometimes hard to know what you CAN eat if you are pregnant or trying to conceive.  By using some of the general principles above you can lower your chances of being exposed to harmful bacteria. As always, patients are encouraged to contact their doctor for any specific questions regarding diet and pregnancy.

If you would like to meet with one of our sub specialty board certified physicians at Fertility Associates of Memphis, please call our office at 901-747-2229. We would be happy to help you.


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