Food Safety & Foods to Avoid when Pregnant

Food Safety & Foods to Avoid when Pregnant

When pregnant, your levels of immunity are lower than usual. Food safety is especially important because developing a foodborne illness such as listeria, toxoplasma, campylobacter or salmonella may have a more serious impact on you and baby. In extreme cases, bacteria found in food can be harmful to your unborn baby. 

Make sure you take extra care when buying, gathering, preparing, cooking and storing food. Follow basic food safety guidelines, practicing good hygiene and avoiding high risk foods will help you stay protected.

Food safety tips:

  • Washing and drying your hands before handling or preparing any food is essential to food safety. Simple, good hygiene is important everywhere – not just in the kitchen!
  • Remember cross contamination – that basic rule you’ve heard about for when you’re preparing food. Make sure you use separate knives and chopping boards for meat and your other ingredients, or wash them thoroughly in between use.
  • Store raw meat on the bottom level of the fridge so juices don’t drip on other foods and keep raw and cooked food separate.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables well before eating.
  • Eat freshly cooked or prepared foods.
  • Avoid pre-packaged and ready-to-eat salads and coleslaws from delis, salad bars or similar as these foods can be contaminated with listeria if they aren’t prepared or handled correctly.
  • A simple pregnancy food safety tip is to cook food thoroughly, especially meat, chicken and fish which should be cooked right through until piping hot.
  • Leftovers should be stored in clean covered containers, in a cold fridge and thrown out after 2 days.
  • Reheat leftover food (and pre-prepared chilled food) until it is piping hot (>70°C) and do not reheat more than once.
  • If eating out, make sure food is well cooked immediately before you eat and served piping hot (>70°C).
  • Eat food before use-by and best-before dates and within 2 days of opening the package.
  • Use chilled food (e.g. yoghurt or cheese) within 2 days of opening the package. Store safely in fridge <4°C.

Here is a list of high risk foods to avoid during pregnancy:

  • Avoid chilled ready-to-eat foods from delis and buffets e.g. coleslaws, sliced meat.
  • Avoid pre-prepared ready to eat foods such as sushi, sandwiches and salad.
  • Soft and semi-soft pasteurised cheese e.g. brie, camembert, blue, ricotta, mozzarella. Stick to eating the harder yellow varieties like Edam or Tasty for now.
  • Raw or unpasteurized milk and raw milk products
  • Cream and custard e.g. in pre-made bakery items with custard or cream used as an ingredient and avoid ready-made chilled custard.
  • Bean sprouts
  • Soft-serve ice-creams
  • Hummus and other dips containing tahini – avoid store bought or homemade hummus.
  • Raw or partially cooked eggs – eggs can contain salmonella, which is a major cause of food poisoning. When you're pregnant, you should avoid any food that contains uncooked egg, like homemade mayonnaise, smoothies or some desserts. That doesn’t mean you should avoid eggs altogether, as they’re great source of protein. Just make sure the egg yolk and white are both well-cooked before you eat them. 
  • Processed meats e.g. ham, pate, salami, luncheon. Avoid raw, cured, deli and undercooked meats.
  • Cold cooked or smoked chicken
  • Raw or smoked seafood and shellfish including sushi, smoked salmon, marinated mussels, oysters.

Other foods to be careful with during pregnancy

Mercury in Fish -  Cooked fish is an excellent food to eat while you are pregnant and breast feeding as it’s low in saturated fat, a source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids and minerals like zinc and iodine. Most common fish varieties are safe, but some may contain higher levels mercury.  In New Zealand guidelines have been developed around which are the safest fish to consume and which to limit because of higher mercury levels  Check out the Ministry of Primary Industries website for more information on mercury and fish species and serving restrictions.

Cadmium - Bluff oysters and queen scallops can have more cadmium (a heavy metal) in them, so they should be restricted to eating once per month during pregnancy.

Brown seaweed - contains naturally high and varying levels of iodine, so limit to no more than one serving per week and avoid all kelp supplements.

Liver & Kidney - liver and kidney contain large amounts of Vitamin A, and too much of this vitamin can harm your baby, so limit to no more than 100g of them per week.

For more information about foodborne illnesses and food safety in pregnancy, visit the New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries website:

The materials published on this website are of a general nature and have been provided for informational purposes only. Always consult your medical practitioner or a qualified health provider for any further advice in relation to the topics discussed.



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