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. Food Safety for Pregnant Women
  1. Consumers

Food Safety for Pregnant Women

Food Safety for Pregnant Women

Brochure cover for Food Safety for people with cancer.

U.S. Department of Agriculture
Food Safety and Inspection Service

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Food and Drug Administration  

September 2006; Slightly revised September 2011

English (PDF - 2.61MB)

En español (PDF - 2.69MB)

Food safety is important for everyone – but it’s especially important for you. That’s why the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Food and Drug Administration have prepared this booklet. It is designed to provide practical guidance on how to reduce your risk of foodborne illness. In addition to this guide, we encourage you to check with your physician or health care provider to indentify foods and other products that you should avoid. You have a special need for this important information . . . so read on!

When certain disease-causing bacteria, viruses or parasites contaminate food, they can cause foodborne illness.  Another word for such a bacteria, virus, or parasite is “pathogen.” Foodborne illness, often called food poisoning, is an illness that comes from a food you eat.

  • The food supply in the United States is among the safest in the world – but it can still be a source of infection for all persons.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 million persons get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne infection and illness in the United States each year. Pregnant women and their unborn children have a higher risk of developing certain foodborne illnesses. Others who also have a higher risk include young children, the elderly, and people with a weakened immune system.
  • “Listeriosis” is a foodborne illness caused by a harmful bacterium called Listeria monocytogenes. Every year, 2,500 Americans become ill with Listeriosis – one out of five cases result in death. Pregnant women and their unborn children have a higher risk of developing Listeriosis. “About one-third of listeriosis cases happen during pregnancy.”
  • There is a higher risk of developing Listeriosis with certain foods you eat. These include the following foods: certain ready-to-eat foods, refrigerated smoked fish, refrigerated luncheon meats, and soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk.

Congratulations on your pregnancy!  Food safety should be important to everyone, but as a pregnant women it is especially important for you to learn how to protect yourself and your unborn baby from foodborne illness.

When you become pregnant, your body naturally undergoes hormonal changes, some of which also change your immune system, making you more susceptible to contracting a foodborne illness. The immune system is the body’s natural reaction or response to “foreign invasion.”

Everyone is susceptible to contracting a foodborne illness. However, because your immune system changes during pregnancy, and your unborn child has an underdeveloped immune system, you and your unborn child are at risk for illnesses associated with Listeria monocytogenes and Toxoplasma gondii.

  • Listeria monocytogenes is a harmful bacterium found in many foods. Listeria monocytogenes can lead to a disease called listeriosis. Listeriosis can cause miscarriage, premature delivery, serious sickness, or death of a newborn baby.
  • Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite found is numerous food sources, as well as dirty cat litter boxes and other areas where cat feces can be found. Toxoplasmosis can cause hearing loss, intellectual disabilities, and blindness.

The good news is that you can take special effort to select and prepare foods to prevent contracting these and other foodborne diseases. This guide is written especially for you to help show you how to protect yourself and your unborn baby from contracting a foodborne illness.

Make safe food handling a priority while pregnant – and make it a lifelong commitment to help protect you and your family from foodborne illness

Download the Guide for Information on these Topics

  • Eating at Home: Making Wise Food Choices
  • Common Foods: Select the Lower Risk Options
  • Taking Care: Handling and Preparing Food Safely
  • Cold Storage Chart
  • In the Know: Becoming a Better Shopper
  • Food Product Dating
  • Transporting Your Groceries
  • Being Smart When Eating Out
  • Tips for Transporting Food
  • Foodborne Illness: Know the Symptoms
  • Foodborne Illness Action Plan

English (PDF - 2.61MB)

En español (PDF - 2.69MB)