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Do I need to take any special precautions with meat while I'm pregnant?
Yes. You need to be particularly careful during pregnancy to follow safe food handling guidelines. That means storing and preparing your meat safely and cooking it well or reheating it properly before eating. (It's not safe to eat raw or undercooked meat, poultry, or fish while you're pregnant.)
Meat and poultry can harbor parasites or bacteria -- such as listeria, toxoplasma, and salmonella -- that cause food poisoning. These conditions are particularly dangerous for pregnant women.
Listeria causes a condition called listeriosis. Most people don't get sick when they eat food contaminated with listeria. But healthy pregnant women are more likely than other healthy adults to get listeriosis and are more likely to become dangerously ill from it.
You can pass listeriosis to your baby while you're pregnant, too. This can cause problems such as miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, low birth weight, and life-threatening infections like bacteremia (bacteria in the blood) and meningitis.
Toxoplasma is a microscopic parasite that causes an infection called toxoplasmosis. Most people don't notice when they have it, but if you get infected during pregnancy, the illness can be severe, causing miscarriage, stillbirth, long-term neurological damage, or other devastating effects.
Salmonella bacteria are more likely to cause serious illness when you're pregnant. In rare cases, the high fever, vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration that can result could cause preterm labor or even a miscarriage.
How can I make sure my meat is safely cooked?
Use a food thermometer because you can't always tell by looking. Cook beef, pork, veal, and lamb to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook poultry and all ground meats to 165 degrees F.
If you don't have a thermometer, be sure to cook the meat until it's no longer pink in the middle.
Is it safe to eat lunch meat or cured or smoked meat during pregnancy?
This may come as a surprise, but it's best not to eat deli meats while you're pregnant, unless the food has been heated until steaming (165 degrees F) right before serving.
This includes precooked and deli meats (such as turkey, chicken, roast beef, ham, prosciutto, and bologna), hot dogs, bacon, dry sausages (such as salami and pepperoni), refrigerated pâtés and meat spreads, smoked meat, and foods that you've cured yourself. (Canned foods are okay.)
These foods can harbor bacteria, which can continue to grow even when refrigerated. You can slow the growth of bacteria in these foods by keeping the temperature in your fridge at 40 degrees F or colder. But to kill the bacteria, you'll still need to heat the food until steaming before you eat it.
Is it safe to eat grilled or blackened meat during pregnancy?
Eating an occasional serving of char-grilled or blackened food is probably safe, and there's no particular risk for pregnant women. But studies have found that people who eat a lot of well-done or blackened meat or fish tend to have higher rates of certain cancers.
When animal proteins are grilled or pan-fried over an open flame, they produce cancer-causing chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs).
And when the juices drip into the fire and produce flames, it creates another type of cancer-causing chemical, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which then adhere to the surface of the food.
You might try these techniques to reduce the risk of creating these chemicals when cooking animal proteins:
- Remove visible fat from meat before cooking
- Precook the food in a microwave for a couple of minutes to reduce the grilling time
- Avoid exposing the food to an open flame
- Keep the grill temperature moderate to minimize flare-ups
- Turn the food frequently
- Cut away charred portions of the food before serving
Is it safe to eat meat from livestock that were given antibiotics?
Only if the meat is handled and cooked properly.
The amount of antibiotic that gets to your baby when you eat meat is extremely small, so it's unlikely your child would be harmed that way.
The main concern about eating antibiotic-laced meat or poultry is that it could contain antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Research has shown that treating animals routinely with antibiotics causes antibiotic-resistant bacteria to develop.
That means that you could contract an antibiotic-resistant infection from this meat if it's not handled or cooked properly. These infections can cause severe illness or death. This is another reason that it's important to follow food safety guidelines.
Most livestock in the United States are treated with antibiotics. Only meat and poultry labeled organic or "no antibiotics added" comes from livestock raised without these drugs.
Read more about antibiotics in meat.