Stop Foodborne Illness Reminds Pregnant Women and New Moms How to Stay Healthy for Food Safety Month in September

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Increased Vulnerability Requires Additional Food Safety Measures

Pregnant women and young children have increased vulnerability to foodborne pathogens, so STOP Foodborne Illness (, the leading national advocate for safe food, is releasing a list of food-safety tips in time for September’s National Food Safety Month to help soon-to-be and new mothers get a healthy start. Nancy Donley, president of STOP, knows firsthand the devastation of foodborne illness when she lost her only son to E. coli poisoning from contaminated ground beef in 1993.

“A foodborne pathogen that doesn’t affect the majority of the population can be much more dangerous to a pregnant woman or young child,” said Donley, who was recently awarded the NSF International Lifetime Achievement Award at the 13th Annual Food Safety Summit. “A few simple precautions when choosing and preparing food, plus knowing what to do if you or your child becomes sick, can actually save lives.”

STOP’s Safe-Food Guidelines for Pregnant Women and Young Children (under
5 years old)

  •     Avoid raw or unpasteurized milk and cheeses. Most are pasteurized, but read the labels, particularly on soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, Camembert, Roquefort, blue-veined cheeses, and Mexican-style cheese.
  •     Put a hold on sushi. While well prepared sushi is safe for most of the adult population, decreased immunity during pregnancy and in young children make raw fish and raw shellfish unsafe to eat.
  •     Cook eggs thoroughly. Salmonella can grow both inside and outside eggs. The safest practice is to cook all eggs thoroughly until the yolk is hard and wash hands thoroughly after cracking eggs. For those who like eggs runny or who eat uncooked eggs in foods like raw dough, eggnog, or homemade Caesar dressing, buy pasteurized shell eggs or liquid pasteurized egg products.
  •     Heat lunchmeat and hotdogs until steaming. Listeria is a bacterium that can be found in ready-to-eat foods, such lunchmeat. Although the majority of the population can resist Listeria, those more vulnerable may become sick and pregnant women can suffer miscarriages as a result of eating Listeria-contaminated ready-to-eat foods. To reduce the risk of Listeria, heat cold cuts and hot dogs until steaming, and order hot sandwiches in restaurants.
  •     Drink pasteurized juices. Most juices are pasteurized, but some may not be. Unpasteurized juices can contain harmful bacteria, but should be easy to steer clear of because they are required to carry a warning label. When buying smoothies, ask the preparer if they use pasteurized juice. If they aren’t sure or say no, it’s best to skip it.
  •     Cook meats to safe temperatures. Ground beef should be cooked completely through to 160 degrees – color is not a reliable indicator so use a thermometer to be sure. At restaurants, order hamburgers well done. Chicken and turkey should be cooked to 165 degrees and whole cuts of meat, including pork, should reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees and left to rest for 3 minutes prior to serving (this rest period is needed to finish the cooking process).
  •     Wash vegetables, avoid sprouts. Choose fresh produce that looks undamaged, and wash thoroughly in drinkable water. Avoid sprouts altogether; uncooked sprouts have caused frequent outbreaks of Salmonella and E. coli.

Symptoms: Hard to Detect, Intense Effects
Foodborne illness symptoms can be harder to detect in pregnant women because they may be confused with typical pregnancy symptoms like nausea, or they may appear weeks after contaminated food has been eaten. In young children, foodborne illness symptoms can intensify quickly; it’s important to know the source of such illnesses to receive the right treatment. Here are some signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for:

Listeria causes the following symptoms in pregnant women:

  •     Mild flu like illness
  •     Fever
  •     Muscle Aches
  •     Nausea
  •     Diarrhea

Untreated infections can lead to premature delivery, spontaneous abortion, and still birth. It is important to seek medical attention if foodborne illness is suspected. Infants born to a mother with Listeria are at risk for sepsis or meningitis.

Other foodborne illnesses to watch for include:

Salmonella , which can cause:

  •     Diarrhea
  •     Fever
  •     Abdominal cramps
  •     Vomiting

E. coli, which can cause:

  •     Severe diarrhea that is often bloody
  •     Abdominal pain
  •     Vomiting
  •     Usually there is little or no fever present

If consumers think they or their children have been sickened by food, seek immediate medical attention, especially if symptoms persist or worsen. STOP offers a free helpline (1-800-350-STOP) which helps foodborne illness victims navigate the public health system to figure out what they have, where it might have come from, and what to do next.

For National Food Safety Month, STOP also is offering food safety tips for school-age children, seniors, and young adults entering college. For more food safety tips please visit

About STOP Foodborne Illness
STOP Foodborne Illness (STOP) is a national, nonprofit, public health organization dedicated to preventing illness and death from foodborne pathogens. STOP achieves its mission by advocating for sound public policies, building public awareness and assisting those impacted by foodborne illness.

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Beth Strautz

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