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Moms-to-Be: What to Heat Before You Eat

by Jane Wangersky | July 7th, 2014 | Pregnancy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI once read a novel where the narrator suspected another character was pregnant after seeing her eat the fat off a ham. There’s no predicting what you may crave during pregnancy, but if you find yourself longing for ham, or any other cured meat, you’ll need to heat it up before you can eat it and be sure it’s safe. The Center for Disease Control recommends getting it “steaming hot”, or to be more precise, 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

This includes hot dogs, lunch meat and many other refrigerated ready-to-eat foods, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Going to the trouble of heating up the baloney for your sandwich may seem silly, but it could make the difference in preventing listeriosis.

Listeriosis is caused by a bacteria in the foods we’ve mentioned, and others we’ll talk about later. “Pregnant women are about 10 times more likely to get listeriosis than other healthy adults” says the CDC — remember, your immune system has weakened to keep your body from rejecting the baby’s father’s genetic material.

Animals can have listeriosis without showing any symptoms. The bacteria, Listeria monocytogenes, lives on in their meat, sometimes passing to humans this way. It can also grow in foods that were processed in unsanitary conditions. Unlike most bacteria, it can live in the cold temperature of a refrigerator. Heat and pasteurization destroy it, however.

So it’s easy to see that pregnant women should avoid unpasteurized milk or juices, and anything made from them. Be aware that this includes soft cheeses like Feta, Brie, and Camembert — also homemade queso fresco. The FDA reports that pregnant Hispanic women may have a higher incidence of listeriosis, which may be due to queso fresco and other traditional foods made from unpasteurized milk.

There are other foods that should be avoided completely to prevent listeriosis during pregnancy: Refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads and refrigerated smoked fish, unless it’s been cooked into another dish. Anything shelf-stable should be safe, however.

It may sound as if I’m setting you up for a summer of frying your pastrami. Well, consider that it might taste pretty good that way. Also consider that listeriosis can cause miscarriage, premature labor, and birth defects. You may not even know that you have it; most pregnant women who do don’t feel sick. On the other hand, they may have fever,diarrhea, problems with balance, and a whole lot of other highly unpleasant symptoms. So if the mom takes a few precautions to prevent listeriosis, it’s best for her and the baby.

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