April 19, 2006
The Republican (MA)
Q:I recently found out that I’m pregnant and was told I shouldn’t eat lunch meat anymore. Is this true? A:When it comes to the issue of lunch meat and pregnancy, the topic is really about food-borne infection or illness. Food-borne illness occurs on a daily basis to many people. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 76 million cases of food-borne illness are reported each year.)
Unfortunately, certain populations are at greater risk of having life-threatening reactions to food-borne illness. Children, the elderly, immune compromised individuals and pregnant women should take special precautions to safeguard against possible infection.
Food-borne infection occurs after eating food that has bacteria present. Although many foods have bacteria due to processing, proper handling of food (both storage and preparation) will help kill bacteria before we eat it.
There are specific types of bacteria that are of special concern for pregnant women. Bacteria such as lysteria, salmonella, e-coli and toxoplasma gondii are commonly found in foods and therefore should be given special attention by pregnant women.
Lysteria is a common bacterium that most people do not hear about unless they themselves become sick from it or become pregnant. Lysteria can be found in unheated hot dogs and luncheon meat, uncooked chicken, smoked fish, refrigerated meat spreads and patÈs, soft cheeses such as feta, brie, queso blanco, Roquefort and Camembert, unwashed fruits and vegetables, and unpasteurized milk products. If infected, moms can react with various degrees of severity (miscarriage, premature or stillborn delivery) or babies could become severely ill upon birth.
Salmonella and e-coli are more commonly known bacteria. Although most of us think of the lethal strain of e-coli that hits the news, e-coli comes in many different, weaker forms. Both salmonella and e-coli are commonly found in under-cooked chicken, fish and meat, raw shellfish, raw sprouts and unpasteurized juices. If ingested by mom, newborns are at risk of developing diarrhea, fever and meningitis.
Toxoplasma gondii is commonly thought of as a “cat box” issue. Although the primary source of toxoplasma gondii are cat boxes and dirt, it can also be found in undercooked meat and eggs, unpasteurized milk, as well as unwashed fruits and vegetables. Infection with toxoplasma gondii can occur prior to pregnancy with little concern for future pregnancies. It is when mothers become infected during pregnancy that deformities or organ problems can occur with the baby.
So now that I have probably successfully scared you from eating, let’s discuss strategies to prevent food-borne illness and infection.
First and foremost, always wash your hands, cooking and eating surfaces!
Wash all fruits and vegetables before eating (even if they have a peel you are removing or cutting through). Cook sprouts.
When it comes to hot dogs and luncheon meat, heat them until steaming hot (microwave works best for lunch meat).
Stay clear of unpasteurized foods, “smoked” meats and soft cheeses.
Always use a thermometer when cooking; don’t just guess from experience! Carrie Taylor is a registered dietitian and licensed dietitian nutritionist with Big Y. If you have a nutrition question, e-mail her at askcarrie@ bigy.com or write Living Well, Eating Smart, Carrie Taylor, 2145 Roosevelt Ave, PO Box 7840, Springfield, MA 01102.