U.S. flag An official website of the United States government
  1. Home
  2. Food
  3. Resources for You (Food)
  4. Consumers
  5. People at Risk of Foodborne Illness
  6. Fact or Fiction - Food Safety for Moms to Be
  1. People at Risk of Foodborne Illness

Fact or Fiction - Food Safety for Moms to Be

Food Safety for Moms to Be Logo

It's Spring! | Fall Events | Summer Fun | Entertaining All Year | Holiday Goodies | FACT or FICTION?

En español

When you're pregnant, you receive lots of advice - some of which can be confusing, conflicting, or inaccurate. To help you separate reality from fiction, here are seven common foodborne illness myths, along with the facts.

Preventing foodborne illness is easy as...

  1. Clean – Wash hands and surfaces often.
  2. Separate – Don't cross-contaminate.
  3. Cook – Cook to proper temperatures.
  4. Chill – Refrigerate promptly.

For more information about the 4 Simple Steps to Food Safety, see Lifelong Food Safety.

Myth 1: Foodborne illness doesn't happen very often, so it isn't a serious issue.

Fact: Foodborne illness is indeed a serious issue for everyone.

Each year in the U.S., foodborne illness accounts for:

  • 48 million gastrointestinal illnesses
  • 128,000 hospitalizations
  • 3,000 deaths

If you eat food that's contaminated, you could become sick. And, the risks are particularly serious for those in at-risk groups, such as pregnant women. For example, certain foodborne bacteria, such as Listeria monocytogenes, can be particularly harmful to moms-to-be and their unborn babies. For more information, see Listeria.

Myth 2: The only time food isn't safe to eat is when it looks or smells spoiled.

Fact: Many people assume that because food spoilage is visible, this is the only time that food isn't safe to eat. However, this is not always the case. Food that looks and smells fresh may contain harmful foodborne bacteria that you can't see. And, in fact, food-spoilage bacteria are not the same as bacteria that cause foodborne illness.

Food-spoilage bacteria deteriorate (decay) food. Basic cleaning practices and proper refrigeration will reduce or slow down spoilage. Foodborne bacteria, on the other hand, contaminate food - making it unsafe to eat. For more information on how to prevent foodborne illness, see Lifelong Food Safety.

Myth 3: Foodborne illness is caused by the last food you ate.

Fact: It's often difficult to determine which food actually caused the illness.

Eating a contaminated food will usually cause illness in one-to-three days, but sickness can also occur in as little as 20 minutes or as long as six weeks later. Within this amount of time, you would have eaten a wide range of foods, and any of these foods could have contributed to the illness.

Myth 4: Foodborne illness can only affect the mother - not her unborn child.

Fact: Not true. Harmful foodborne microorganisms that cause foodborne illness can seriously harm the mother and can also cross the placenta and infect her developing fetus. As a result, the infected fetus or newborn can experience a wide range of health problems - or even death. So, pregnant women should know the risks and how to prevent them.

See While You're Pregnant.

Myth 5: Seafood isn't safe to eat while I'm pregnant.

Fact: Seafood is a good source of high quality protein and other nutrients for you and your baby. However, it is true that you should avoid eating certain types of seafood while you're pregnant or trying to become pregnant, and you should carefully select and prepare seafood.

For example:

  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked finfish or shellfish (including oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops). 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.
  • Always cook fish thoroughly, until it's opaque (milky white) and flakes easily with a fork.
  • Don't eat King mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, and tuna (bigeye). These fish can contain high levels of methylmercury.
  • If you eat fish caught by family or friends, check for fish advisories, if there is no advisory, eat only 1 serving and no other fish that week.

Fish and other protein-rich foods have nutrients that can help a child's growth and development. 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.

Myth 6: Cheese is safe to eat, whether it's hard or soft.

Fact: It all depends on the type. Cheese made from unpasteurized milk can become contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that can be harmful to a pregnant woman and her unborn baby. Since some soft cheeses may be made with unpasteurized milk - especially traditional, homemade soft cheeses - pregnant women should not eat soft cheeses, such as Feta, Brie, Camembert, "blue-veined cheeses," or "queso blanco," "queso fresco," or Panela - unless they're made with pasteurized milk. Check the label to make sure it says, "made with pasteurized milk."

For more information, see Listeria.

Myth 7: Hot dogs are pre-cooked, so it's okay to eat them raw.

Fact: Actually, it's important to always reheat hot dogs until they're steaming hot. Some ready-to-eat foods, such as hot dogs, can become contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes after they have been processed and packaged at the plant. If it's not possible to reheat hot dogs, don't eat them.

For more information, see Listeria.

Food Safety Bloopers Caught on Tape

Many foodborne illnesses are probably caused by food prepared in the home. To test this theory, the Food and Drug Administration funded a survey in which scientists videotaped 100 families preparing food in their kitchens. The families initially thought they were being taped on how to make a specific recipe, and they also thought their kitchens were relatively "food safe." Here's what the scientists found out:

  • One woman handled raw chicken and then fixed a baby's bottle without washing her hands.
  • Dozens of people dried their hands with the same dish towel they used to clean up raw meat juices.
  • One person dropped a baby's bottle in raw eggs and neglected to use soap when the bottle was rinsed off.
  • Only 45% of the people washed their hands before working in the kitchen and 16% of those who washed didn't use soap.
  • 30% did not wash the lettuce they used, and some placed salad ingredients in raw-meat-contaminated containers.
  • 25% of the people didn't know how to tell if chicken was cooked to a safe internal temperature, so they undercooked it.

Handle foods safely to keep yourself and your family safe!

Back to Top