Welcome to Safe Eats, your food-by-food guide to selecting, preparing, and handling foods safely throughout your pregnancy and beyond!
When you eat out, look at your surroundings before you even sit down. If it's not clean, you should consider eating somewhere else. Also, make sure you wash your hands with soap and warm water before eating. If soap and water aren't available, use alcohol-based wipes or gel formulas to clean your hands.
Make a Clean Start
Wating at a restaurant, cafeteria, or a fast food place can be an enjoyable experience. But, because you're pregnant, you need to take special care that the food served to you is safe. During pregnancy, your immune system is weakened, which makes it harder for your body to fight off harmful foodborne microorganisms that cause foodborne illness. Here's how to stay safe.
What's On the Menu?
When dining out: Remember that harmful bacteria can be hidden in some foods on the menu, so pay close attention to the type of food it is and how it's prepared.
Cook Thoroughly: Please always request that your food be cooked thoroughly, especially meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. When a hot meal is served, make sure it's piping hot and thoroughly cooked. If it's lukewarm, send it back.
Eating It Raw is Risky: Raw fish (such as sushi or sashimi) or foods made with raw fish are more likely to contain parasites or bacteria than foods made from cooked fish. Don't eat raw or undercooked finfish or shellfish (including oysters, clams, and mussels).
Moms-to-Be: Don't Order These
King mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish (from the Gulf of Mexico), and bigeye tuna. These fish can contain high levels of methylmercury, an element that can be harmful to your unborn baby. Due to the evidence of benefits from eating fish, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consume at least 8 and up to 12 ounces per week of a variety of fish, from choices that are lower in methylmercury. For more information, see Dietary Advice for Moms-to-Be.
Raw sprouts of any kind (including alfalfa, clover, and radish). Bacteria can get into the sprout seeds through cracks in the shell before the sprouts are grown. Once this occurs, these bacteria are nearly impossible to wash out. Check sandwiches and salads. They may often contain raw sprouts. Request that raw sprouts not be added to your food.
Juice by the glass. Juices that are fresh squeezed and sold by the glass, at some juice bars, for example, may not be pasteurized or otherwise treated to ensure their safety. Warning labels are not required on these products. Pregnant women and young children should avoid all unpasteurized juices.
Harmful bacteria can be found in raw or undercooked eggs. Some restaurants may use uncooked eggs in foods like Caesar salad dressing, custards, and some sauces. Avoid foods that might contain raw or undercooked eggs.
If you're unsure about the ingredients in a particular dish, ask your server before ordering it.
With meal portions getting bigger, more and more people are packing the doggie bag with leftovers to enjoy later. Take care to handle leftovers, take-out, and delivered foods safely.
Leaving A Restaurant With A Doggie Bag?
Handle the leftovers with care. If you won't be arriving home within 2 hours of being served, don't take the leftovers home with you. And, remember that the inside of a car can get very warm, and bacteria can grow rapidly in foods if they're left in these conditions. To be safe, it's best to go directly home after eating out and put your leftovers in the refrigerator as soon as you arrive.
A Note About Take-Out Foods
When hot, cooked food is purchased, get the food home quickly and eat it right away. Don't let it sit out at room temperature. Cold foods should be eaten within 2 hours of preparation. Otherwise, store it in the refrigerator or freeze it for eating at another time.
For delivered foods, eat the food within 2 hours after it arrives to prevent harmful bacteria from multiplying. If the food is not going to be eaten within two hours, you can keep it hot in the oven with the temperature set at or above 200° F (93° C). Side dishes, like stuffing, must also be kept hot in the oven. Covering food will help keep it moist while you keep it warm. Check with a food thermometer to make sure that the food is held at an internal temperature of 140° F (60° C).
The Danger Zone: The "danger zone" is the range of temperatures at which bacteria can grow - usually between 40° and 140° F (4° and 60° C). For food safety, it's important to keep food below or above the "danger zone."
Remember the 2-Hour Rule: Discard any perishables (foods that can spoil or become contaminated by bacteria if unrefrigerated) left out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. When temperatures are above 90° F (32° C), discard food after 1 hour.
For the recommended cooking temperatures for foods, See the Apply the Heat (PDF) chart.