A pregnant woman peels an orange at her kitchen counter.
Lisa Middleton

A food safety guide for pregnant women

Lisa Middleton

Good nutrition is never more important than when you’re pregnant. What you eat doesn’t just support the development of your baby, it fuels your increasing energy needs, too.

But while you’re upping your calories to keep up with your growing bub, you also need to make sure that the foods you consume are nutrient-dense, well-prepared and safe for the both of you.

Why is food hygiene more important now?

You should always follow good hygiene practices in preparing, storing and handling food, however, during pregnancy there is an increased focus on reducing your risk of listeriosis.

Listeria are bacteria that can cause the illness listeriosis. While listeriosis may cause only mild symptoms in healthy people, pregnant women fall into the high-risk category and infection can result in miscarriage, premature birth or stillbirth.

The good news is, heating food (over 75°C or 167°F for 2 minutes) will kill listeria. So tuck in while it’s fresh and hot!

Let’s take a look at how you should handle certain types of food to reduce risk.

Food can easily become re-contaminated through poor handling after cooking. So when you have leftovers, don’t leave them to cool on the bench – refrigerate immediately. Leftovers should be heated to over 75℃ for at least 2 minutes, so they’re steaming hot all the way through (check that your microwave has not heated a dish unevenly).

Leftovers should be eaten within 24 hours.

Fresh & frozen produce
Fresh fruit and vegetables should be cleaned thoroughly before consumption. If vegetables that are eaten raw cannot be cleaned thoroughly (e.g. bean shoots), don’t eat them.

Frozen fruit and veg that will be cooked are okay, but should not be eaten defrosted and raw (uncooked).

Emily Skye, pregnant, using a blender to make a smoothie.

If you like berries in your smoothies, buy fresh instead of frozen and either use them fresh after you’ve washed them thoroughly or freeze for later use. As a general rule, always buy your fruit and veg fresh, and clean them well before consuming or cooking.

Eating out & ordering in
When going out to eat or ordering from a delivery service, do not eat any foods that give you cause for concern around preparation, cooking, storage or venue hygiene.

It’s best to order meals that are served hot – ensure it’s steaming, not lukewarm when it arrives. If a delivery service meal arrives cold, be sure to reheat it well. Avoid ready-to-eat or pre-prepared foods such as salads and sandwiches from delis, cafes and buffets.

See the FIT Pregnancy Going Out guidelines for more tips on ordering your favourite foods.

Food safety & hygiene rules

Along with the above pointers, keep these general rules in mind when preparing and eating meals and snacks:

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly prior to food preparation and cooking.

  • Wash all cookware and utensils well after handling uncooked foods.

  • Store raw foods low in the fridge, separate from cooked foods.

  • Cook all hot foods thoroughly (no rare steak or runny eggs) and eat it fresh.

  • Keep hot food hot (75°C or hotter), and cold food cold (4°C or colder).

  • Thaw frozen meats in the fridge, not at room temperature.

  • Check best-before and use-by dates.

  • Perishable foods such as dips and cottage cheese should be eaten only from sealed tubs, and consumed within 2 days of opening.

Are there any foods I can't eat?

Yes. Even before you were expecting, you had probably heard that there were some foods pregnant women shouldn’t eat. That’s because certain foods are more likely to be contaminated with listeria.

To avoid the risk of listeriosis, you should NOT consume these foods during pregnancy:

  • Raw seafood, e.g. oysters, sashimi, sushi.

  • Smoked ready-to-eat seafood or cooked ready-to-eat shellfish, e.g. prawns/shrimp.

  • Any ready-to-eat food from salad bars, sandwich bars and delicatessens.

  • Cold cured or prepared meats from delicatessen counters and pre-packaged from supermarkets.

  • Cold cooked ready-to-eat chicken.

  • Pre-prepared or pre-packaged salads or fruit salads.

  • Frozen fruit and vegetables (not cooked – cooked is obviously fine).

  • Unwashed raw vegetables.

  • Raw mushrooms.

  • Rockmelon/cantaloupe.

  • Soft, semi-soft and surface-ripened cheeses, e.g. brie, camembert, ricotta, feta, blue cheese.

  • Unpasteurised dairy products.

  • Refrigerated paté or meat spreads.

  • Soft serve ice cream.

  • Bean shoots and seed sprouts.

Fish & mercury
Fish contains nutrients that are important for a baby’s brain and nervous system development. It’s also a good source of protein, and women should aim to eat it regularly during pregnancy. However, some women shy away from fish during pregnancy with concerns about mercury contamination.

Honey Lime Salmon from the Emily Skye FIT Pregnancy meal plan.

My Honey Lime Salmon is a healthy and tasty dinner option on FIT Pregnancy..

Most fish can be safely consumed on a regular basis – for instance, canned tuna is usually made from smaller fish, which are likely to be lower in mercury. There are only a small number of larger, predatory fish varieties that are a higher risk for containing mercury.

Take the cautious approach and limit your intake of the following fish to no more than once every 2 weeks (and no other fish during that period):

  • shark (flake)

  • billfish (marlin, swordfish, broadbill)

  • barramundi

  • ling

  • gemfish

  • orange roughy (sea perch)

  • catfish.

If you eat fish regularly and are concerned about mercury intake, seek out information from your local health authorities online, and speak to your doctor.

No, you don’t have to go without cheese for 9 months! While you should avoid soft and surface-ripened cheeses such as brie, camembert, ricotta, feta, blue cheese, they can be eaten cooked and hot, e.g. in quiche or on pizza. Plus you can continue to enjoy hard cheeses (e.g. cheddar, edam, gouda) whatever way you like them.

Always consult your healthcare professional before beginning any new exercise program, as there are some situations where exercise may not be advised. This information should be used as a guide only and should not replace the advice of your medical practitioner.

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Lisa Middleton
Advanced Sports Dietitian

Advanced Sports Dietitian Lisa Middleton is an expert on achieving optimum performance in sport. She has advised elite athletes and sporting teams in Australia, and holds a Bachelor of Applied Science in Human Movement, a Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics, and certificates in Sports Nutrition and in Fitness. She’ll help you cut through the nutrition myths to fuel your goals.

Lisa Middleton
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