A few days ago, “Down Under” a.k.a. Australia, my friend, food safety guru, and for some strange reason, eater of raw shellfish, Dr. Julian Cox, was speaking about the risk of pregnant women consuming unpasteurized juice or cider and tahini or hummus. The risk to the mother and the baby is Listeria, which can spread from the human digestive tract to the placenta causing miscarriage or birth defects.

It did get me thinking about what risks of foodborne illness women have during pregnancy. Here are my thoughts about what women should avoid while carrying a child.

Bacteria, parasites, and viruses may threaten the health of the mother and the baby, possibly leading to miscarriages or severe neurological illnesses, including intellectual disability, blindness, and epilepsy.

So, what to avoid or at least pay close attention to.

FISH (cooked only)

Fish is a wonderful food. It has lots of good protein and omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3s). Omega-3s are important to your baby’s brain and eye development. You should not eat some types of fish, but it is okay to eat two meals of low mercury fish every week to give you the benefits of omega-3s.

Note: Cook fish by broiling, baking, steaming, or grilling. Remove skin and fat before cooking. Do not eat the fat that drains from the fish while cooking.

Safe Fishes:

  • Farmed salmon (once a month)
  • Albacore tuna (once a week)
  • Shrimp, canned light tuna, canned or wild salmon, pollock, and catfish, cod, anchovies, or flounder (safe to eat up to two meals a week)

Do NOT eat raw fish!

Raw fish can contain parasites (anisakid nematodes, aka “worms”), bacteria (such as Vibrio, Salmonella, or Listeria) or viruses (Hepatitis A or Norovirus):

  • Sushi
  • Sashimi
  • Raw Oysters
  • Raw Clams
  • Raw Scallops
  • Ceviche

High mercury fish, in higher amounts, can be toxic to your nervous system, immune system, and kidneys. It may also cause serious developmental problems in children, with adverse effects even in lower amounts. This can cause brain damage and affect the baby’s hearing and vision.

  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • King mackerel
  • Tuna (especially bigeye tuna) (Albacore is okay – “white” tuna – once a week only)
  • Marlin
  • Tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico
  • Orange roughy

Deli Meats and Smoked Fish:

Do NOT eat meat spread or pate.

Do NOT eat UNLESS you reheat to steaming hot: Hot dogs, lunch meat, deli meat (such as turkey, salami, and bologna)

Deli-smoked seafood (unless HEATED to steaming hot) can contain Listeria.

  • Nova-style
  • Lox
  • Kippered
  • Smoked
  • Jerky

Dairy Products:

Some cheese may contain bacteria called Listeria. These bacteria can cause a disease called listeriosis which may cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or serious health problems for your baby. In addition to Listeria, raw milk and some raw milk cheeses can contain bacteria like Campylobacter, E. coli, or Salmonella:

  • Brie
  • Feta
  • Camembert
  • Roquefort
  • Queso blanco
  • Queso fresco


Raw and undercooked eggs may have bacteria that can cause food poisoning, especially Salmonella. Do not eat food with raw eggs like Hollandaise sauce and homemade Caesar salad dressing.

 Do NOT consume:

  • Homemade eggnog
  • Raw batter
  • Homemade Caesar salad dressing
  • Tiramisu
  • Eggs Benedict
  • Homemade ice cream
  • Freshly made or homemade hollandaise sauce
  • Soft-scrambled eggs


Premade ham salad, chicken salad, seafood salad may contain Listeria. As described above, luncheon meats may also contain Listeria.

Do NOT eat undercooked poultry, pork, lamb, and beef – Some of the same issues with raw fish affect undercooked meat, too. Eating undercooked or raw meat increases your risk of infection from several bacteria or parasites, including ToxoplasmaE. coliListeria, and Salmonella.

Fruits and Vegetables (and other raw foods):

Like undercooked meats and fishes, raw or undercook sprouts, like alfalfa, clover, mung bean, or radish may contain E. coli or Salmonella. Pregnant women should drink only pasteurized juices.

Raw cookie dough – flour can contain E. coli or Salmonella.

Tap water, though not a “food” can contain bacteria and parasites if untreated or comes from a well. Do not drink any water you are not certain is from a trusted municipal source, or drink only bottled water or water that has been commercially filtered (i.e., some home water filters do not sufficiently remove bacteria, viruses, or sediment) or boiled.

NOTE: washing fruits and vegetables in untreated or “raw” water can contaminate them and cause food poisoning.


Caffeine is absorbed very quickly and passes easily into the placenta. Because babies and their placentas do not have the main enzyme needed to metabolize caffeine, high levels can build up. High caffeine intake during pregnancy has been shown to restrict fetal growth and increase the risk of low birth weight at delivery.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can also cause fetal alcohol syndrome, which involves facial deformities, heart defects, and intellectual disability.