Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Food Safety

In summer it is especially important to think about food safety in pregnancy. With outdoor grilling and picnics, food may not be kept at temperatures that discourage bacterial growth. The FDA website gives helpful information here.

The question always arises about deli meats.

The problem with deli meats is that there have been cases of Listeriosis that were associated with deli meats - especially hot dogs and other ground-up meats like bologne. Most likely this was the result of improper food handling, storage temperatures, etc. In Utah we seen an average of about 3 cases per year.

The reason this is a concern for pregnant women is because they are much more likely to get this than a healthy non-pregnant adult and it can be serious, even resulting in spontaneous miscarriage. The immune system is somewhat suppressed in pregnancy - this is nature's way to try and prevent miscarriage by helping your body not recognize this baby as a "foreign object" to fight against. The downside is that you may be more susceptible to illness.

So, in erring on the side of caution the FDA suggests avoiding deli meats unless they are heated to kill any bacteria. Your risk is very, very slight but because of the potential serious effects, this would be the recommendation.

Now, we all know that eating a deli sandwich will be more nutritious and probably contain less fat and calories than other fast-food, so avoiding this may not seem like wise counsel. A compromise might be in opting for the sub to be toasted. Choose your restaurants carefully. You want to dine where they keep strict controls on their food temperatures, storage and cooking.
To avoid infection from Listeria monocytogenes, pregnant women are advised to practice safe food handling procedures, such as storing all perishable foods at or below 40ºF and using perishable or ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible. If a perishable food cannot be eaten within 4 days, it is best to freeze it. Kitchen surfaces, cutting boards and utensils should be washed before and after food preparation (especially after contacting raw meat). Pregnant women are recommended to avoid consumption of soft cheeses such as queso fresco, Camembert and Brie, unpasteurized milk and foods make from unpasteurized milk, raw or undercooked meat, refrigerated smoked seafood, deli salads, and hot dogs, luncheon meats and deli meats that have not been properly reheated. Leftover foods should be reheated to 165ºF before eating. Read here.
Canned varieties of the seafood and meats are not of concern.

There is a common myth about mayonnaise and salad dressings which had roots in homemade varieties which called for raw eggs. However, commercial dressings are really quite safe because of their high acidity. When you worry about the potato salad, it's more likely the eggs, potatoes, ham or other meat you should worry about rather than the mayo because of the low acidity. Mayo got the bad wrap because it is often served with these other low acid foods. Read more about picnic food safety and dressings here. Tips on how to prepare your picnic can be found here.

This is what the FDA says:

"To Eat or Not to Eat?

Don't eat:
  • Hot dogs and luncheon meats - unless they're reheated until steaming hot.
  • Soft cheeses like Feta, Brie, and Camembert, "blue-veined cheeses," or "queso blanco," "queso fresco," or Panela - unless they're made with pasteurized milk. Make sure the label says, "made with pasteurized milk."
  • Refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads.
  • Refrigerated smoked seafood - unless it's in a cooked dish, such as a casserole. (Refrigerated smoked seafood, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna, or mackerel is most often labeled as "nova-style," "lox," "kippered," "smoked," or "jerky." These types of fish are found in the refrigerator section or sold at deli counters of grocery stores and delicatessens.)
  • Raw (unpasteurized) milk or foods that contain unpasteurized milk.

It's okay to eat:

  • Canned or shelf-stable (able to be stored unrefrigerated on the shelf) pâtés and meat spreads.
  • Canned or shelf-stable smoked seafood.
  • Pasteurized milk or foods that contain pasteurized milk.
Pregnancy food fact sheet here.
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