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Meat, Poultry & Seafood - Food Safety for Moms to Be

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Safe Eats Main Page

Welcome to Safe Eats, your food-by-food guide to selecting, preparing, and handling foods safely throughout your pregnancy and beyond! 

Meat, Poultry & Seafood | Dairy & Eggs | Fruits, Veggies & Juices | Ready-to-Eat Foods | Eating Out & Bringing In

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Protein in meat, poultry, and seafood is an important nutrient in your diet, but it can also be an ideal environment for some harmful bacteria. Here's how to keep harmful bacteria at bay and your family safe.

Clean Is Key!

Your first steps in food safety are...

  • Wash hands thoroughly with warm water and soap before and after handling raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, and utensils (including knives), and countertops with soap and hot water after they come in contact with raw meat, poultry or seafood. 

Sanitize It!

Kitchen countertops that come in contact with raw meat, poultry, and seafood can be sanitized using a kitchen sanitizer. One teaspoon of liquid chlorine bleach per quart of clean water can also be used to sanitize surfaces. Leave the bleach solution on the surface for about 10 minutes to be effective.


Improper handling of raw meat, poultry, and seafood can set the stage for cross-contamination - the spread of bacteria from foods, hands, utensils, and food preparation surfaces to another food. Here's how to stop it:

  • Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from ready-to-eat foods in your grocery shopping cart, refrigerator, and while preparing and handling foods at home. Also, consider placing these raw foods inside plastic bags in your grocery shopping cart to keep the juices contained.
  • To prevent juices from raw meat, poultry, or seafood from dripping onto other foods in the refrigerator, place these raw foods in sealed containers or sealable plastic bags.
  • If possible, use one cutting board for raw meat, poultry, and seafood and another one for fresh fruits and vegetables. If two cutting boards aren't available, prepare fruits and vegetables first, and put them safely out of the way. Wash the cutting board thoroughly with soap and hot water. Then, prepare the raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Follow by washing the cutting board again.
  • Marinades used on raw meat, poultry, or seafood can contain harmful bacteria. Don't reuse these marinades on cooked foods - unless you boil them before applying.
  • Never taste uncooked marinade or sauce that was used to marinate raw meat, poultry, or seafood.
  • Place cooked food on a clean plate for serving. If cooked food is placed on an unwashed plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood, bacteria from the raw food could contaminate the cooked food.


To keep all meats, poultry, and food in general safe...

  • Your refrigerator should register at 40° F (4° C) and the freezer at 0° F (-18° C). Place a refrigerator thermometer in the refrigerator, and check the temperature periodically. During the automatic defrost cycle, the temperature may temporarily register slightly higher than 40° F (4° C). This is okay.

When storing seafood...

  • Buy only fresh seafood that's refrigerated or properly iced.
  • Refrigerate or freeze seafood immediately if you're not going to cook it right away.

Moms-to-Be: Advice About Eating Fish

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.

Choices to Avoid
Highest Mercury Levels

  • King mackerel
  • Marlin
  • Orange roughy
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tliefish (Gulf of Mexico)
  • Tuna, bigeye

For more information, see Dietary Advice for Moms-to-Be

Pre-stuffed Poultry: Fresh Vs. Frozen

  • Avoid purchasing fresh, raw whole poultry that's been pre-stuffed. The raw-meat juices mixing with the stuffing can cause bacterial growth.
  • Frozen, raw whole poultry that's been pre-stuffed is safe and should be cooked in its frozen state; don't defrost it first.


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, so it's important to cook fish thoroughly. Here's how...


Finfish should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145° F (63° C). When a food thermometer is not available or appropriate, follow these tips to determine when seafood is done:

  • Cook fish until it's opaque (milky white) and flakes with a fork.
  • Cook shrimp, lobster, and scallops until they reach their appropriate color. The flesh of shrimp and lobster should be an opaque (milky white) color. Scallops should be opaque (milky white) and firm.
  • Cook clams, mussels, and oysters until their shells open. This means that they are done. Throw away the ones that didn't open.
  • Shucked clams and shucked oysters are fully cooked when they are opaque (milky white) and firm.

Eating Raw Seafood Is Risky - A pregnant woman and her unborn baby are at risk if she eats raw or undercooked seafood. Moms-to-be should avoid eating raw or undercooked finfish or shellfish (including oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops).


Cook raw meat and poultry to safe internal temperatures. Always use a clean food thermometer to check the internal temperature of these foods. Make sure it goes straight into meats, but doesn't come out the other side and touch the pan. Cook meat and poultry to these temperatures:


Cook beef, pork, veal, and lamb roasts, steaks, and chops to at least 145° F (63° C), with a 3 minute rest time.

Ground Meat

Cook ground beef, veal, lamb, and pork to at least 160° F (71° C).

Cook ground poultry to 165° F (74° C).


Cook all poultry to minimal safe internal temperature of 165° F (74° C).

Consumers may wish to cook poultry to a higher temperature for personal preference.

For a printable chart of cooking temperatures, see the Apply the Heat (PDF - 20.3KB) chart.

Questions and Answers

"How can I tell if fish is fresh?"

Perfectly fresh fish and shellfish have virtually no odor. It's only when seafood starts to spoil that it takes on a "fishy" aroma. Fresh fish will have these signs:

  • The eyes are clean and bulge a little.
  • Whole fish and fillets have firm and shiny flesh and bright, red gills free from slime.
  • The flesh springs back when pressed.
  • There is no darkening around the edges or brown or yellowish discoloration.
  • The fish smells fresh and mild, not "fishy" or ammonia-like.

Note: Keep in mind that just because fish is fresh doesn't mean it's bacteria-free. You still need to follow the food safety tips above when handling or preparing fresh fish.

"What should I look out for when buying frozen seafood?"

You should follow these guidelines:

  • Don't buy frozen seafood if its package is open, torn, or crushed on the edges.
  • Don't buy packages that are above the frost line in the store's freezer.
  • If you can see through the package, look for signs of frost or ice crystals, which could mean the fish has been stored a long time or defrosted and refrozen. In this case, you shouldn't buy it.
  • There should be no white spots, dark spots, discoloration or fading, or red or pink flesh to indicate drying-out.

"Some of my favorite seafoods are raw clams and oysters. Why aren't they safe to eat?"

They're unsafe because raw seafoods are more likely to contain parasites or bacteria than foods made from cooked seafood. In addition, clams, mussels, and other mollusks get their food by filtering large quantities of water through their shells. In doing so, they can accumulate more bacteria and viruses than finfish. This makes raw mollusks particularly unsafe to eat. Seafood that's been cooked thoroughly is safe to eat.

"Should I stop marinating meat, poultry, and seafood at room temperature while I'm pregnant?"

Actually, you should discontinue this practice whether you're pregnant or not. Marinade that's been used on raw meat, poultry, and seafood contains raw juices, which may contain harmful bacteria. And, bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature. Refrigeration slows bacterial growth, so for your safety, foods should always be refrigerated while marinating.

For the recommended storage times for foods, see the Refrigerator & Freezer Storage Chart. (PDF | 21.2KB)

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