Recently I’ve noticed an increase in questions regarding food precautions and recommendations during pregnancy. I’ve had many patients ask me if it’s safe for them to eat nachos while they are pregnant. The answer is yes. I started looking at where this misconception stems from and thought that a quick review of what the American College of Ob-Gyn and the FDA recommends would help clear things up.
Listeria monocytogenes is a bacteria that can be found in soil, water, sewage plants and food. It is considered an important public health problem due to the fact that infection with this bacteria most often occurs in people with a weakened immune system- such as pregnant women, newborns, the elderly and people on chemotherapy. In this population the infection can have severe consequences.
Symptoms of infection with Listeria usually include diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptom followed by fever, body and muscle aches. The symptoms usually develop one to a few days after eating the contaminated food. It is diagnosed by blood testing. Treatment with antibiotics cures the infection and can prevent pregnancy complications so it is important to contact your physician if you develop these symptoms or have consumed food known to be contaminated
The actual risk of contracting Listeria in the United States is quite low. The incidence given by the CDC is 3 per 1,000,000 (.3/100,000). Reported cases were down 38% in 2010. Of the cases reported, 16% occurred in pregnant women. Of those pregnant women 28% were Hispanic. This leads many to believe that the most common source of infection is soft, non-pasteurized Mexican cheeses like queso fresco and queso blanco.
As with any bacteria that is naturally present in our environment, it is impossible to completely eliminate the risk of infection. There have been reports of Listeria isolated from many types of food including contaminated vegetables, hummus, even milk contaminated after pasteurization. (In other countries it has been isolated from soft serve ice-cream, but not in the US). Common sense food safety guidelines and avoiding high-risk foods are the best ways to avoid infection.
Food safety guidelines include washing all utensils and surfaces used in preparation of raw meats and storing uncooked meats separately from vegetables and cooked foods.
Foods considered high-risk include unpasteurized soft cheeses, such as brie, feta, or queso blanco. Cold deli meats and uncooked hotdogs are also considered to be high risk unless they are cooked before eating. All hard cheese (like cheddar), semi-soft cheese (like mozzarella) and pasteurized cheeses are completely safe.
Most feta and brie that is made in the United States has undergone the pasteurization process- just check the label.
The great news is that most nachos are made with monterey jack or cheddar. If there is any doubt, just ask the cook. Now you can just sit back and enjoy your meal.