Listeria is a bacterial infection transmitted from eating contaminated foods. With Australian food standards, Listeria infections are extremely rare. However, it is important that all pregnant women avoid high risk foods because of the significant risk they pose. Listeria crosses through the placenta to your baby and can lead to miscarriage, still birth, premature birth or rupture of the membranes and/or very sick newborn babies.
Listeria may cause no symptoms at all, whilst others can suffer flu like symptoms, temperatures, headaches, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and general aches and pains.
Obvious foods to avoid during pregnancy include; soft cheeses including brie, camembert, blue cheese and ricotta, takeaway cooked diced chicken, cold meats, pate, prepared or stored salads and coleslaws (especially from deli’s, supermarkets and takeaway shops), raw seafood, unpasteurised diary products and/or chilled ready to eat foods.
When eating out make sure your food is served hot – not lukewarm. Smorgasbords and pre-prepared salad bars should be avoided. When eating out keep it simple …. order something cooked and hot! If you questioned the food preparation it’s probably safer not to eat it.
Pregnant women can also decrease the chances of contracting Listeria by using good food hygiene. Wash your hands before and after food preparation; wash thoroughly (in hot soapy water) all utensils including knives & chopping boards after handling uncooked foods; and wash all fruit and vegetables before eating.
Food, including meat and seafood should always be well cooked (no raw or partially raw) and served hot. Listeria is heat sensitive so by cooking food well, you are able to destroy it. Lukewarm food should be avoided.
Proper food storage is essential. Place leftovers in the fridge immediately – don’t let them cool on the bench; store all raw meats below and separate from vegetables and cooked meat in your fridge; uncooked meats should be covered and always thaw frozen food in the fridge.
When microwaving to reheat, ensure that the food is hot/steaming right through to the centre. Listeria is one of the few bacteria that are able to grow in the refrigerator. If food is stored for longer than 12 hours after cooking, pregnant women should not eat it. Fleshly prepared foods are recommended. Do not eat food past its used by or best before date.
The best advice for women is to take preventative action and think food safety at all times. A brochure on Listeria and Pregnancy is available free of charge from Australian New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) website www.anzfa.gov.au.