WEB ONLY: Home economist’s tips to prevent listeriosis in pregnancies

Listeriosis is an infection caused by eating food con­ta­minated with the bacterium Lis­teria monocytogenes.

Although it is rare, pregnant wo­men are 20 times more like­ly than other healthy adults to get listeriosis.

Healthy food choices and safe food practices protect mother and baby, contributing to a healthy pregnancy. Hormo­nal changes during pregnancy affect the immune system, causing pregnant women to become more susceptible to food borne illness. While seri­ous, food borne risks for preg­nant women can be addressed by handling food properly and by avoiding certain foods.

Foods to avoid include:

– deli meats or hot dogs, unless reheated to steaming hot;

– refrigerated smoked sea­food and smoked fish;

– soft and semi-soft cheese if made with unpasteurized milk;

– refrigerated pâtés and meat spreads; and

– raw or undercooked meat, poultry, fish, or seafood.

Listeriosis infections during pregnancy can lead to miscar­riage or stillbirth, premature delivery, or infection of the newborn. Pregnant women may experience only a mild illness. Symptoms of listeriosis usually appear within two 30 days, but have been known to occur up to 90 days after eating contaminated food.

Listeria is prevalent in the environment. It is found in soil, water, vegetation, human, and animal feces. In some pro­cessed foods like deli meats, contamination may occur after cooking but before packaging.

Listeria may be present in all foods.

It can survive and grow slowly at refrigeration tempera­tures.

Listeria will grow faster at refrigerator temperatures above 4°C (40°F).

Consumers cannot tell by the look, smell, or taste if listeria is present in food. Lis­teria is killed by cooking food.

To reduce the risk of developing listeriosis:

– reheat deli meats or hot dogs to steaming hot;

– cook meat, poultry, fish, and seafood to recommended temperatures;

– use a food thermometer.

– follow the instructions on labels for food preparation and storage;

– consume perishable and ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible;

– avoid storing leftover food for more than three to four days.

– maintain the refrigerator temperature at or below 4°C (40°F);

– consume only pasteurized milk and milk products;

– wash knives and cutting boards with warm soapy water; after handling uncooked foods to prevent contamination of cooked and ready-to-eat foods; and

– rinse vegetables and fruit under running water before eating.

Pregnant women with ques­tions or concerns about lis­teri­osis are advised to consult with their health care provider.