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Summer Foods to Avoid While Pregnant

BBQs and picnics may scream summer (even at a social distance), but they can also serve up foods that aren't safe for pregnancy. Here's what to strike from your menu.
ByCassie Kreitner
Senior Editor
Updated
May 2015
Summer barbecue vegetable kebabs foods to avoid when pregnant
Image: Shutterstock

With the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, summer may look closer to “normal” this year for many. Even when done at a social distance, BBQs, beach days and road trips are quintessential summertime activities. And by all means, enjoy! Just keep an eye on the foods you add to your picnic plate. That’s because your immune system is naturally weakened during pregnancy, and you’re at greater risk for developing certain foodborne illnesses caused by bacteria such as listeria and Toxoplasma gondii.

These harmful bacteria can lead to diseases like listeriosis—an illness pregnant women are more likely to contract—which can result in miscarriage, premature delivery, low birth weight and stillbirth, even if you have no outward symptoms. Sounds scary, we know, and the chances of you coming down with it are pretty slim. But you can lower your risk by watching what you eat and paying close attention to how your food is prepared, stored and transported.

Here are some summer foods you’ll want to avoid:

Rare or undercooked meat. If you like your burger on the rare side, you’re not alone—but while you’re pregnant, make sure any meat you eat is cooked through to prevent getting infected with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite.

Deli meats and hot dogs. While perfect for a BBQ or beach day, these packaged meats can be contaminated with listeria, the only known bacterium that can survive at refrigerator temperatures of 40 degrees or less. If you’re dying for a ham sandwich or a hot dog, heating them to 165 degrees will kill the bacteria, so you can still enjoy—hot.

Prepared deli salads. Steer clear of the deli counter. Sure, pre-made egg salad, potato salad and cole slaw make planning a picnic a snap, but you don’t know how long the foods have been in the refrigerated case, whether the temperature has been at a consistent 40 degrees or less or whether all the ingredients have been pasteurized.

Pre-cut fruits and veggies. Avoid packaged pre-cut fruits and veggies, since they could also be contaminated with listeria. Always give produce a good, thorough wash before eating, cutting or cooking it.

Unpasteurized cheese. What’s a summer party without a cheese board? But some soft cheeses, including brie, camembert, bleu cheese, feta and mozzarella, aren’t always made from pasteurized milk. If you can check the package to make sure the cheese is pasteurized, feel free to indulge—but when in doubt, skip.

Unpasteurized juice. Tempted to get some juice or cider from the farmer’s market or roadside stand? If you’re not sure it’s been pasteurized, better not. Freshly squeezed juices that sit around for longer than an hour are too risky for pregnant women to consume.

Raw bean sprouts. There’s nothing like a cool, crisp salad on a hot summer day—but leave off the raw bean sprouts. They can harbor bacteria such as salmonella, listeria and E. coli.

Venti-sized caffeinated drinks. When it’s sticky outside, an iced coffee or iced tea can really hit the spot—and it’s fine to have some caffeine, as long as you’re keeping it to no more than 200 milligrams, or about one to two 8-ounce cups a day (depending on the type of coffee you’re drinking).

Some other summer food safety tips to keep in mind: Make sure your refrigerator is set to 40 degrees Farenheit or below (and if you’re traveling, use plenty of ice or frozen gel packs to make sure your food stays at this temperature for the entire trip) and steer clear of foods that are left out too long at room temperature (or out in the sun).

For more tips, follow the USDA’s guide to food safety for moms-to-be.

Updated June 2021

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