The Importance of Food Safety During Pregnancy featured image

Why is food safety during pregnancy so important?

Pregnant women are among the list of those that are at the highest risk of getting severe cases of food poisoning. The immune system changes in pregnant women, place themselves, their unborn child, and their newborns at increased risk of food poisoning.

Foodborne illnesses can worsen during pregnancy and may lead to miscarriage or premature delivery. Some foodborne illnesses, such as Listeriosis, can infect the fetus even if the mother does not feel sick. This is why food safety during pregnancy is so important.

Following some basic food safety guidelines can really help to reduce your risk of getting food poisoning:

Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often
Cross-contaminate: Separate, don’t cross-contaminate
Cook: To safe temperature
Chill: Refrigerate properly


  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water and dry them – before handling and preparing food and after touching raw foods (especially meat), going to the toilet or changing nappies, touching animals (including pets) and touching bins.
  • Clean work surfaces including your cutting boards and utensils thoroughly before and after preparing food, especially if you are preparing raw foods such as raw meat.
  • Wash fruit and vegetables by rubbing them under water, for example in a bowl of fresh water, before eating.


  • Have separate cutting boards for raw food (especially meat) and ready to eat foods, or wash it thoroughly in between preparing different types of food, to avoid bacteria from raw food being transferred. Don’t forget to also clean knives and other utensils thoroughly after using them to prepare food.
  • Store raw food (especially meat) and ready to eat foods separately and don’t allow them to come into contact or be placed on the same surface without washing it. Bacteria in raw food can be killed when you cook it, but not if they are transferred to foods like salads, fruit or bread.
  • Make sure you cover raw meat, or keep it in a sealable container, and keep it on the bottom shelf of the fridge so that it cannot touch or drip on to any other foods.
  • Do not wash raw chicken (or other poultry, like turkey) before cooking it, as washing may splash harmful bacteria onto kitchen surfaces.


  • When you cook food, make sure that it is piping hot all the way through (at least 70°C). Make sure that any meat, whether cooked in your kitchen or on the braai is thoroughly cooked. During pregnancy, all rare (pink) meats should be avoided, including lamb and beef. Check that they are cooked all the way through with no pink meat on the inside. Insert a knife into the deepest part and make sure the juices run clear.
  • When you reheat food, make sure it is piping hot all the way through. Foods should not be reheated more than once as cooling and reheating food more than once increases the risk of food poisoning.


  • Use a fridge thermometer to check your fridge temperature and make sure it is between 0 and 5o
  • If you have leftovers or food that you are not going to eat straight away, cool it as quickly as you can (ideally within an hour and a half) and then store it in the fridge or freezer. Make sure you let the food cool down before you put it in the fridge, otherwise it may raise the fridge temperature. Eat foods that you have stored in the fridge within 2 days.
  • Harmful bacteria can grow in foods within the ‘use by’ date e.g. cooked meats, cheeses, prepared salads, – so don’t eat them after they’ve gone past the ‘use by’ date.
  • Never put open cans in the fridge as the metal may transfer to the can’s contents – place the contents in a covered container instead.
  • Do not refreeze raw foods or foods meant to be frozen e.g. frozen desserts that have been thawed. Defrosted raw foods can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 days before being cooked. Defrosted cooked food must be reheated and eaten immediately.

Advice Regarding Seafood for Pregnant Women

Women who are pregnant should make informed choices when it comes to eating seafood products is critical to food safety during pregnancy. Fish are a great source of high-quality protein, minerals, and vitamins that are beneficial to overall health. However, it is important to choose fish that are safe to eat and offer health benefits. The below recommendations are advised from The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services 

Cook seafood thoroughly

All seafood dishes should be cooked to 70°C. Raw seafood may contain parasites or bacteria, including Listeria monocytogenes, that can make pregnant women ill and could potentially harm their babies.

This means that you should avoid:

  • Sushi
  • Sashimi
  • Raw Oysters
  • Raw Clams
  • Raw Scallops
  • Ceviche

Take care with smoked seafood: Refrigerated smoked seafood presents a very real threat of Listeria. Don’t eat refrigerated smoked seafood unless it’s in a cooked dish, such as a casserole, that reaches an internal temperature of 70°C to kill harmful bacteria. It is acceptable to eat smoked seafood during pregnancy if it is canned, shelf-stable, or an ingredient in a casserole or other cooked dish.

Don’t Drink Unpasteurized Juice or Cider

Unpasteurized juice, even fresh-squeezed juice, and cider can cause food poisoning. These beverages have been linked to outbreaks caused by E. coli and other harmful bacteria. To prevent infection, either choose a pasteurized version or bring unpasteurized juice or cider to a rolling boil and boil for at least 1 minute before drinking.

Avoid Raw Milk, Raw Milk Soft Cheeses, and Other Raw Milk Products

Raw milk is milk from any animal that has not been pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria. Raw milk, also called unpasteurized milk, may contain bacteria such as CampylobacterE. coli, ListeriaSalmonellaor the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. To avoid getting these foodborne illnesses, only consume pasteurized milk and milk products, including Brie, Feta, and Camembert cheese.

Cook Eggs Thoroughly

Undercooked eggs may contain Salmonella. Cook eggs until the yolks and whites are firm to kill germs. If you are making a casserole or other dish containing eggs, make sure the dish is cooked to a temperature of 70°C. Make sure that foods that contain raw or lightly cooked eggs are made only with pasteurized eggs. Do not eat foods that may contain raw eggs, such as:

  • Homemade eggnog
  • Raw batter
  • Homemade Caesar salad dressing
  • Tiramisu
  • Eggs Benedict
  • Homemade ice cream
  • Freshly made or homemade hollandaise sauce

Avoid Pre-made Meat or Seafood Salad (Such as Deli Chicken or Tuna Salads)

Don’t buy or eat premade ham salad, chicken salad, or seafood salad that may contain Listeria. These items are commonly found in delis.

Reheat Hot Dogs and Luncheon Meats

Reheat these meats to steaming hot or 70°C before eating, even though the label says pre-cooked. These meat items may contain Listeria monocytogenes and are unsafe to eat if they have not been thoroughly reheated.

  • Hot dogs
  • Luncheon (deli) meats
  • Cold cuts
  • Fermented or dry sausage
  • Any other deli-style meat and poultry

Don’t Eat Raw Dough

Unbaked (raw) dough or batter can make you sick. Flour hasn’t been treated to kill bacteria like E. coli. Raw eggs can contain Salmonella. Make sure batter is thoroughly baked or cooked before eating.

Food Consulting Services is a private South African-owned Food Testing Laboratory and Food Safety Consultancy, that tests water and food to ensure compliance with South African National Standards. We also perform hygiene survey audits to the hospitality and food manufacturing industry. If you’d like to learn more about Food Consulting Services, visit our website or feel free to enquire with us. We look forward to hearing from you and becoming your food safety partners. Get in touch with us for more information.

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