Nutrition and Food Safety

To decrease your risk of contracting food-borne pathogens during pregnancy, remember to practice safe food handling techniques.

  • Make sure you wash your hands when preparing food and especially after any contact with raw meat. Wash produce prior to eating.
  • Be careful not to contaminate raw meat with other food intended to be eaten raw.
  • Properly cook foods – refer to askkaren.gov for the FDA’s cooking temperature recommendations.

General nutrition during pregnancy

It is important to eat a well balanced diet in pregnancy. Focus on proteins, vegetables, whole fruits and whole grains. Many small meals may be needed to decrease nausea and to maintain blood sugar levels. Discuss your diet with your provider, and please let us know if you adhere to a specific dietary philosophy.

Refer to USDA’s Health & Nutrition Information for Pregnant & Breastfeeding Women or the American Congress for Obstetrics and Gynecology Nutrition Pregnancy Information, for more information on nutritional needs during pregnancy and to help you coordinate a daily food plan for your pregnancy.

What you need to know about Listeria during your pregnancy

Listeria monocytogenes is a bacteria that can increase one’s risk of miscarriage if it causes a blood infection. This bacteria is found in unpasteurized dairy products, and pre-cooked meat products that have not been re-heated sufficiently. To increase your chances of having a safe and healthy pregnancy, it is recommended to:

  • Avoid all unpasteurized milk/dairy products (“fresh” soft cheeses, unpasteurized cow or goat milk). Hard cheeses are fine. Salad dressings made from cheese served at a restaurant are fine. If the label of the soft cheese says it is made from pasteurized milk, it is safe to eat.
  • Heat deli meats that have been sliced in the deli counter until steaming. Boxed sliced meats found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store are fine to eat cold, as long as the container hasn’t been opened for more than 2 days.
  • Heat hot dogs until steaming.
  • Avoid bean sprouts. More than 15% contain dangerous bacteria that your immune system cannot protect as well against.

What you need to know about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish during pregnancy

Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet. They contain high-quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain Omega-3 fatty acids. A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can contribute to heart health and children’s proper growth and development. To take advantage of the many nutritional benefits, women and young children in particular should include fish or shellfish in their diets.

However, nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury. For most people, the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern. However, some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system. The risks caused by mercury in fish and shellfish depend on the amount eaten and the levels of mercury in each. To minimize risk, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advise future, pregnant, or nursing mothers and young children to avoid some types of fish and eat fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.

Safety Tips

Following the recommendations listed below will allow women and children to benefit from eating fish and shellfish while also maintaining limited exposure to the harmful effects of mercury.

1. Do not eat:

  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • King Mackerel
  • Tilefish
    These fish contain high levels of mercury

2. Eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.

  • Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish.
  • Another commonly eaten fish, albacore (“white”) tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.

3. Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers and coastal areas.

If no advice is available, eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don’t consume any other fish during that week.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is mercury and methlymercury?

Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and can also be released into the air through industrial pollution. When mercury falls from the air and accumulates in streams and oceans, it transforms into methylmercury. It is this type of mercury that can be harmful to your unborn baby or young child. The methylmercury is then absorbed by the fish as they feed in these waters, which is why it is considered potentially unsafe to eat too much of certain fish species. Certain types of fish and shellfish absorb more methylmercury than others and at different rates depending on what they eat.

I’m a woman who could have children but I’m not pregnant – so why should I be concerned about methlymercury?

If you regularly eat types of fish that are high in methylmercury, it can accumulate in your blood stream over time. Methylmercury is removed from the body naturally, but it may take over a year for the levels to drop significantly. Thus, it may be present in a woman even before she becomes pregnant. This is the reason why women who are trying to become pregnant should also avoid eating certain types of fish.

Is there methlymercury in all fish and shellfish?

Nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of methylmercury. However, larger fish that have lived longer have the highest levels of methylmercury because they have accumulated more of the compound over time. These large fish (swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish) pose the greatest risk. Other types of fish and shellfish may be eaten in safe quantities as recommended by FDA and EPA.

I don’t see the fish I eat in the advisory. What should I do?

If you want more information about the levels in the various types of fish you eat, see the FDA food safety website or the EPA website for fish safety.

What about fish sticks and fast food sandwiches?

Fish sticks and fast food sandwiches are commonly made from fish that are low in mercury.

The advice about canned tuna is in the advisory, but what’s the advice about tuna steaks?

Because tuna steak generally contains higher levels of mercury than canned light tuna, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of tuna steak per week.

What if I eat more than the recommended about of fish and shellfish in a week?

One week’s consumption of fish does not cause a substantial change in the level of methylmercury in the body. If you eat more fish one week, you can reduce the amount of fish in your diet for the next week or two. Your goal should be to maintain an average of the recommended maximum of 12 ounces of fish and shellfish per week.

Where do I get information about the safety of fish caught recreationally by family or friends?

Before fishing, check your Fishing Regulations Booklet for information about recreationally caught fish. You can also contact your local health department for information about local advisories. It is important to check local advisories because some species of fish and shellfish caught in your local waters may have higher or lower levels of mercury than average due to environmental factors.

For more information about the risks of mercury in fish and shellfish call the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s food information line toll-free at 1-888-SAFEFOOD or visit the FDA’s Food Safety website.

For more information about the safety of locally caught fish and shellfish, visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s Fish Advisory website or contact the Oregon Health Authority website.