Pregnancy is most likely the time in a woman’s life where she is most conscious and careful about what she puts into her body. Many women choose to abstain from alcohol consumption for the sake of their baby, and also eliminate or reduce caffeine and nicotine intake. But there’s another group of foods women should avoid eating while pregnant; foods that may contain listeria.
What is listeria?
Listeria, also known as Listeria monocytogenes, is a bacteria that can cause an infection known as Listeriosis. Individuals with compromised immune systems, elderly people, young children and pregnant women are more susceptible to listeriosis. Listeriosis may lead to infection of the blood, meningitis and other serious health concerns. If a pregnant woman develops listeriosis, the primary concern is how the infection may impact her pregnancy.
Where is listeria found?
Listeria is most commonly found in deli meats, both packaged and directly from the deli at your local grocer. Listeria is also found on uncooked meats, unwashed and uncooked vegetables where the soil was treated with manure as a fertilizer, unpastureized milk and milk products, soft cheeses and meat spreads.
What are the signs and symptoms of listeriosis?
The signs and symptoms of listeriosis may take a few days, to even a few weeks to show. In many women, they have no signs and symptoms, which is why it is so important to maintain god hygeine and avoid foods that may contain listeria while pregnant. Some symptoms of listeriosis may include chills, diarrhea, upset stomach, fever and muscle aches. If the infection has spread to the nervous system, signs of the infection may include neck stiffness, headaches, migraines, loss of balance and convulsions. If you have any of these symptoms, you should consult with your careprovider immediately, as these symptoms can be serious, and potentially life-threatening.
How is listeriosis treated?
In most cases, listeriosis is not detected, often times because there are little to no symptoms, and when there are symptoms, they are often mistaken for the flu. If you suspect you may have eaten food contaminated with literia, or develop symptoms within two months of eating something that may have contained listeria, alert your care provider. Your care provider can order blood tests that will determine whether or not listeria is in your system. If a blood test is positive for listeria, or your caregiver suspects listeria, you will most likely be given antibiotics to help prevent the infection from spreading to your unborn child.
What are the dangers to the baby of a mother who has a listeriosis infection?
Women who develop a listeriosis infection during pregnancy are much more likely to suffer a miscarriage, premature delivery, or even stillbirth. Approximately 22% of prental listeriosis diagnosises end in a stillbirth, an experience that is tragic for all involved. Babies who survive a prental listeriosis infection often suffer severe health problems, due to the infection itself, or the prematurity often caused by the infection. Babies born with listeriosis may suffer from mental retardation, low birth weight, paralysis, blindness, impairments to the brain, heart and kidneys. In newborns born with listeriosis, it may lead to meningitis.
How can I protect myself and my unborn baby from listeria?
Thankfully, there are many ways you can help prevent listeriosis in yourself and your unborn baby. One of the most important things to do is practice good hygeine, washing your hands before and after eating and preparing food, as well as avoiding cross contamination between foods by using clean utensils and surfaces to prepare foods. Ensure that you follow basic food preparation order (such as cutting fruits and vegatables befoe meats) and washing all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before consuming. Eating leftovers in a timely fashion, as well as cleaning your refrigerator and regularly ensuring your refrigerator is 40 degrees farenheit or less, can help reduce the chances of contracting listeria. There are many foods to avoid as well, that will help drastically reduce the chances of contracting listeria. According to the Center for Disease Control, pregnant women and other individuals susceptible to listeriosis should restrict the following foods from their diets;
Hot dogs, luncheon meats and deli meats
These meats are often one of the leading sources of listeria, and can easily cross contaminate other meats during processing, packaging and even serving in the deli at your local grocer’s.
Soft, unpasturized cheeses
Cheeses such as camembert, brie, feta, blue-veined cheeses, and mexican-style cheeses should be avoided. Soft cheeses such as mozerella, cream cheese and swiss can be safely consumed. Be sure to check labels, ensuring that the cheeses you are consuming are pasturized.
Refrigerated pate and meat spreads
These spreads may contain listeria an are best avoided. A safer alternative is canned, shelf-stable meat spreads and pates.
Refrigerated Smoked Seafood
Refrigerated smoked seafoods should be avoided, unless they are part of a cooked dish. These refrigerated seafood products are often labelled as “smoked,” “lox,” “kippered,” “nova-style,” or “jerky,” and are typically sold in the refrigerated section of the grocery store or at deli counters. It is safe, however, to eat canned and shelf-stable smoked seafood products.
Avoiding unpasturized milk and milk products may help reduce the chances of exposing yourself to listeria. Avoid dishes containing unpasturized milk as well.
The Bottom Line
It can be difficult to prevent exposure to listeriosis at all times, however, by following the guidelines above, you can greatly reduce your chances of contracting it and passing the infection on to your unborn baby. Practicing good hygeine, and following good food preparation practices may help prevent any unnecessary or avoidable exposure to the bacteria that can cause this life-threatening infection in your unborn child.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Health Educators > While you’re pregnant – Listeria
Centers for Disease Conrol (CDC)
Listeria and Pregnancy, Infections
American Pregnancy Association
Listeria and Pregnancy