Nutrition and Food Safety

To decrease your risk of contracting foodborne pathogens in pregnancy, remember to use good food safety 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 for the FDA’s cooking temperature recommendations.

What you need to know about Listeria:

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 meat products that have not been heated sufficiently if they are opened previously for a few days. 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:

The Facts: Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet. Fish and shellfish 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. So, women and young children in particular should include fish or shellfish in their diets due to the many nutritional benefits.

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. Yet, some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system. The risks from mercury in fish and shellfish depend on the amount of fish and shellfish eaten and the levels of mercury in the fish and shellfish. Therefore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are advising women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to avoid some types of fish and eat fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.

3 Safety Tips:

By following these 3 recommendations for selecting and eating fish or shellfish, women and young children will receive the benefits of eating fish and shellfish and be confident that they have limited their 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.


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 for more information on nutritional needs in pregnancy and to help you coordinate a daily food plan for your pregnancy.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is mercury and methlymercury?
Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and can be also be released into the air through industrial pollution. Mercury falls from the air and can accumulate in streams and oceans and is turned into methlymercury in the water. It is this type of mercury that can be harmful to your unborn baby and young child. Fish absorb the methlymercury as they feed in these waters and so it builds up in them. It builds up more in some types of fish and shellfish than others, depending on what the fish eat, which is why the levels vary.

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 methlymercury, it can accumulate in your blood stream over time. Methlymercury 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 methlymercury. However, larger fish that have lived longer have the highest levels of methlymercury because they’ve had more time to accumulate it. These large fish (swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish) pose the greatest risk. Other types of fish and shellfish may be eaten in the amounts 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, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, 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 change the level of methlymercury in the body much at all. If you eat a lot of fish one week, you can cut back for the next week or two. Just make sure you average the recommended amount 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. You need to check local advisories because some kinds of fish and shellfish caught in your local waters may have higher or much lower than average levels of mercury. This depends on the levels of mercury in the water in which the fish are caught. Those fish with much lower levels may be eaten more frequently and in larger amounts.

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 your State or Local Health Department.