As March is Nutrition Month, it is important to eat foods that benefit your health. What is equally important is that these foods are handled, prepared and stored in a safe manner to prevent any foodborne illnesses.
Most pregnant women pay careful attention to their health during pregnancy by eating right, getting adequate rest and taking prenatal vitamins. But, just as important is taking the right steps to protect yourself and your unborn baby from foodborne illness.
Pregnant women are at greater risk of getting sick from food that is improperly handled or cooked. This is because pregnancy weakens the immune system, making expectant mothers vulnerable to certain bacteria, viruses, and other harmful parasites.
Bacteria can also cross the placenta and infect an unborn baby, whose immune system is not yet developed enough to fight off harmful bacteria. Complications from foodborne illness can include premature labour, miscarriage, stillbirth, or a baby who is born severely ill.
Along with avoiding high risk foods such as raw or unpasteurized dairy products, pasteurized soft cheeses and non-dried deli meats, four easy steps can help protect both you and your baby:
- CLEAN your hands, kitchen surfaces, cutting boards and reusable grocery bags frequently and thoroughly with warm soapy water. Wash raw food such as fruits and vegetables under cool water;
- SEPARATE all raw foods – such as meat, poultry, fish and shell-fish – from ready-to-eat foods to avoid cross-contamination;
- COOK meat, poultry and fish to a safe internal temperature verified by using a digital thermometer;
- CHILL leftovers within two hours.
Health Canada has identified pregnant women as one of the four groups of people at greater risk for foodborne illness. The other three groups are children aged five and under, people with a weakened immune system and adults aged 60 and over.
The website www.healthycanadians.gc.ca offers valuable information, advice and tips on how women can protect themselves from foodborne illness while pregnant. Resources include a comprehensive list of foods to avoid and safer alternatives, and an interactive guide for how to handle food safely at home and at the grocery store.
Pick up your copy of the Safe Food Handling for Pregnant Women guide at the upcoming Bellies to Babies Celebration on Sunday, May 5th, 2013.