Pregnancy brings along a whole new slew of worries, concerns, and contemplations. Suddenly, your body isn’t your own, and everything you do, you do for two.
It is a completely consuming revelation, at least for the first few days, and especially if you’ve never been “expecting” before.
I know that the first thing I did when I first found out I was pregnant with my first child was look up which foods I should avoid or moderate.
Actually, that’s a lie.
The first thing I did was take two more pee tests to confirm because I didn’t believe my sweet husband when he asked, “So, we liked ‘Robert’ for a boy’s name, right?” Yes, ladies, he’s smooth, and he’s all mine.
Shortly thereafter I found myself glued to my computer looking up all of the foods I could and couldn’t eat, comparing conflicting notes, anecdotes, and science about what was safe and what would surely doom me and my baby. The possibility of contracting listeria kept coming up as the reason for avoiding some seemingly innocuous food groups.
What is Listeria?
Listeria is the genus which defines 7 different species of bacteria named after Joseph Lister, the English pioneer of sterile surgery. The one we are talking about today is known as L. monocytogenes, the most common cause of listeriosis in humans.
You can find the listeria bacteria in soil and water. Vegetables frequently become exposed to the bacterium from contact with contaminated soil or manure used as fertilizer during the growth process. Animals will often carry the bacteria without appearing ill and will pass it through to a variety of foods with animal origins.
What does Listeria do?
When you are exposed to the listeria bacteria, you run the risk of contracting listeriosis. Listeriosis is a rare food-borne illness that can potentially be fatal. Though it is rather rare that you will become infected by the listeria bacteria, it has an estimated 25% mortality rate for people who are infected. Comparatively, salmonella has a mortality rate estimated at under 1%.
The folks most at risk for contracting listeriosis are the young, sick, old, weak, and (you guessed it!) pregnant. Listeria can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women because it possesses the ability to penetrate the placenta.
How to tell if you have been infected with Listeria
Listeriosis manifests in a few different ways, but, most commonly, it will show up with flu-like symptoms, including achy muscles, fever, nausea, and other gastrointestinal disturbances. As if pregnancy didn’t already disturb your gastrointestinals enough already.
If the listeriosis manages to move to your nervous system, it can lead to a stiff neck, convulsions, lack of balance, or confusion.
It can also manifest as sepsis and meningitis.
Why it’s dangerous
Now, this is a family blog and I don’t want to scare you, but it’s important stuff to know. Being armed with information allows you to make choices based on knowledge so that you can provide the best environment for your growing family. If you are prone to hypochondria, you should skip to the next section and disregard this one.
So, in the rare case that you become infected with the listeria bacteria (it has a very low infectivity rate), and it manages to make it’s way to your baby, it can cause some serious damage. Listeriosis has been linked to premature birth, infection of the newborn, and, in some very rare cases, stillbirth.
How to prevent listeriosis
The easiest way to prevent listeriosis is to avoid exposure to the listeria bacteria. To do that, it’s important to avoid certain foods and follow food safety guidelines.
- Thoroughly cook raw meats. That means your steak needs to be cooked through, and make sure your chicken, pork, turkey, and other animal products are cooked completely. Eggs are included here.
- Wash raw vegetables before eating. Make sure all of your produce is clean before you eat it, since listeria can be picked up from soil by vegetables.
- Separate uncooked meats and cooked foods. This is basic food safety, people. Keep your juicy raw meats away from any foods that are ready-to-eat or already cooked to prevent contamination. It also keeps you safe from salmonella, e. coli, and more.
- Wash everything. Keep your knives, hands, cutting surfaces, utensils and anything else that comes into contact with food nice and clean.
- Avoid soft cheeses. Yup. Brie, feta, blue cheeses and a few others should be approached with caution. Typically, cheeses made in the states are safe, but imported cheeses made with unpasteurized milk can carry listeria.
- Avoid deli meats – or heat them. Ready-to-eat meats like deli meats and hot dogs can carry listeria. If you really want to eat them, make sure to heat them until they’re steaming hot to kill off any bacteria.
- Avoid unpasteurized dairy. Raw milk, yogurt, and more can carry listeria. Pasteurization kills all kinds of nasties in your dairy products, including the listeria bacteria.
It’s pretty easy to protect yourself and your baby, as it turns out. Stay away from potentially unsafe foods and make sure to keep up with your basic rules of kitchen safety.
Also, keep abreast of the latest news. Just last week, CNN reported on a recall on spinach due to a possible listeria contamination. A few years back, Colorado-grown cantaloupes were possibly infected with listeria. Make sure your eyes and ears are peeled for information like this from your local news groups – it’s good practice for parenting.
Stay safe ladies – and a happy, healthy pregnancy to you all!