What you need to know about listeria & pregnancy

What you need to know about listeria & pregnancy

The seemingly lengthy list of “what not to eat during pregnancy” may seem odd at first, especially when all you’re craving is a cold club sandwich, but there’s a very specific reason your doctor is urging you to avoid certain foods.

Listeriosis is a rare, but serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria called listeria; however, steps can be taken to help reduce your risk.

Listeriosis mostly affects pregnant women, newborns, older adults and people with weakened immune systems. Pregnant women are up to 10 times more likely than other people to get it. In general, you can protect yourself from listeriosis by following these guidelines:

  • Avoid eating hot dogs, lunch meats, cold cuts, other deli meats (such as bologna) or sausages unless they are heated to an internal temperature of 165°F or until steaming hot just before serving. Don’t let juice from hot dog and lunch meat packages get on other foods, utensils or food preparation surfaces. Wash hands after handling hot dogs, lunch meats and deli meats.
  • Avoid raw (unpasteurized) milk and products made from it, including cheese, ice cream and yogurt. Soft cheeses made with pasteurized milk, including commercial cottage cheese, cream cheese and mozzarella, are generally regarded as safe. However, some soft cheeses made with pasteurized milk, including Hispanic-style soft cheeses, have known to become contaminated with Listeria during processing. Look for the word “pasteurized” on the label. If in doubt, don’t buy it!
  • Do not eat raw or lightly cooked sprouts of any kind (including alfalfa, clover, radish and bean sprouts).
  • Eat cut melon right away or refrigerate it at 40° F or colder and for no more than 7 days.Throw away cut melons left at room temperature for more than 4 hours.
  • Do not eat refrigerated pâté or meat spreads from a deli or meat counter or from the refrigerated section of a store. Foods that do not need refrigeration, like canned or shelf-stable pâté and meat spreads, are safe to eat. Refrigerate these foods after opening.
  • Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood unless it is in a cooked dish, such as a casserole, or unless it is canned or shelf-stable.

Listeriosis symptoms
Pregnant women with the infection typically experience fever and other flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue and muscle aches. However, extreme cases can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery or a life-threatening infection of the newborn.

If you are pregnant, have a fever along and other symptoms of possible listeriosis within two months of eating a possibly contaminated food, you should seek medical care. If you are infected, your health care provider can give you antibiotics that protect your fetus or newborn. If you ate food possibly contaminated with listeria and do not feel sick, most experts believe you do not need tests or treatment, even if you are in a group that is more likely to get listeriosis.

For more information, call Marshall Obstetrics & Gynecology at 304-691-1400.


Amanda Pauley, MD, FACOG

Dr. Pauley is a board-certified general obstetrician and gynecologist at Marshall Health and an assistant professor at Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.