Food

While You're Pregnant - What Is Foodborne Illness?

Food Safety for Moms-To-Be

Learn about foodborne illness and how to prevent certain foodborne risks during your pregnancy.

Also available in Spanish >   En español >

What Is Foodborne Illness? | Listeria | Methylmercury | Toxoplasma

Questions

You might have heard about foodborne illness outbreaks in the news, for example, caused by E. coli O157:H7 or Listeria monocytogenes. Often referred to as "food poisoning," it's a sickness that occurs when people eat or drink harmful microorganisms (bacteria, parasites, viruses) or chemical contaminants found in some foods or drinking water.


"Why should pregnant women be concerned about foodborne illness?"
You are at particularly high risk for foodborne illness because your immune system is altered during pregnancy. This is a natural condition, which helps you and your baby get along with each other. However, such an alteration also makes it harder for your body to fight off certain harmful foodborne microorganisms. Your unborn baby is also at high risk because the baby's immune system is not developed enough to fight off harmful foodborne microorganisms.


"What are the symptoms of foodborne illness?"
Symptoms vary, but may include stomach pain, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. Sometimes foodborne illness is confused with the flu because the symptoms can be flu like with a fever, headache, and body aches.


"How soon can foodborne illness symptoms appear?"
Eating a contaminated food will usually cause illness in one-to-three days, but sickness can also occur as soon as 20 minutes after ingestion... or as long as six weeks later. Exposure to some metals, such as methylmercury, may take months before any effects are seen because the methylmercury levels in the body may take time to build up.


"What should I do if I experience symptoms of foodborne illness?"
Check with your doctor or healthcare provider immediately. And, if you become ill after eating out, also call your local health department, so the department can investigate to see if there's a serious foodborne illness outbreak in the area.


"How serious can foodborne illness be for me?"
Foodborne illness during pregnancy can cause serious health problems, miscarriage, premature delivery, stillbirth or even death of the mother. Different microorganisms or chemical contaminants can affect the mother and fetus or newborn in a variety of ways. For example, sometimes foodborne illness can make the mother sick, leaving her exhausted and dehydrated. Other times the symptoms are absent or so mild that the mother doesn't even know that she's been infected, but she's still passing the infection to her unborn child - who may then experience serious effects from the illness.


"How can foodborne illness affect my baby?"
Harmful foodborne microorganisms or some metals in food can cross the placenta and cause harm to the developing fetus. As a result, the infected fetus or newborn can experience a wide range of health problems - or even death. But, read on... this Web site shows you how to protect your baby.


"What's the general treatment for foodborne illness?"
A doctor may perform a blood test or request a stool sample for testing. Maintaining hydration is an important part of the treatment, especially if the mother is vomiting and/or has diarrhea. Antibiotics that are safe to use during pregnancy may be prescribed by a doctor to get rid of the mother's infection. The antibiotics may also prevent infection of the fetus or newborn. Antibiotics may also be given to babies who are born with foodborne illness.


"How can I prevent foodborne illness?"
Preventing foodborne illness is really quite easy. In fact, you and your whole family should continue good food safety practices even after the baby is born! Start with these 4 Simple Steps:

Clean

Step 1
CLEAN
Wash hands and
surfaces often.

Separate

Step 2
SEPARATE
Separate, don't cross-
contaminate.

Cook

Step 3
COOK
Cook to proper
temperatures.

Chill

Step 4
CHILL
Refrigerate
promptly.


Note: See your doctor or health-care provider if you have questions about foodborne illness.


back to top

Contact FDA

1-888-SAFEFOOD
1-888-723-3366
10 AM- 4 PM EST
Outreach and Information Center

Inquiries: Submit Your Question

Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
Food and Drug Administration

5100 Paint Branch Parkway
College Park, MD 20740

Industry and Consumer Assistance

Page Last Updated: 10/16/2014
Note: If you need help accessing information in different file formats, see Instructions for Downloading Viewers and Players.