In a world that’s determined to jump directly from the spookiness of Halloween to the festivity of the winter holidays, only one thing stands in the way: Thanksgiving dinner.
Whatever Thanksgiving traditions you may have, the feast is probably one of the most important. The average American consumes 3,000 calories during the big meal. Nationwide, we eat 736 million pounds of turkey—the approximate weight of the Empire State Building—on Thanksgiving Day.
With cuisine that ranges from pumpkin pie to stuffing to mashed potatoes and gravy spread out across the table, it can be tempting to scoop a little of everything onto your plate–especially if you’re eating for two. But there are certain Thanksgiving foods that pregnant women should avoid. Follow these guidelines to make sure your feast is safe for you and your baby.
Unpasteurized Soft Cheeses
Treat the cheese platter like a piece of fine art: look, but don’t touch! Raw milk (and thus, the unpasteurized soft cheeses made from raw milk) can carry a bacterium called Listeria monocytogenes, which could be devastating to your pregnancy.
A listeria infection can cause premature birth, stillbirth, and miscarriage. It can also be responsible for giving your child intellectual disabilities, paralysis, seizures, blindness, and impairment of the brain, heart, or kidneys. Soft cheeses to be particularly wary of include feta, Brie, Camembert, Roquefort, Gorgonzola, and Mexican-style cheeses like queso.
But there’s hope! Pasteurized cheeses are safe for pregnant women to consume. The pasteurization process eliminates the threat of bacteria by treating the milk with mild heat—and killing any disease-carrying organisms—before the cheese is made. Check the labels or ask your host to make sure any cheese you sample is pasteurized.
Unwashed fruits and veggies may contain toxoplasma, a bacterium known for causing unborn babies to suffer from hearing loss, blindness, and brain developmental problems. Toxoplasma can also cause stillbirth and miscarriage. By thoroughly washing raw vegetables—even if you don’t plan to eat the outside—you can drastically diminish this threat.
The Main Course
Undercooked meat of any kind may be contaminated by a number of bacteria, including E. Coli, toxoplasma, and salmonella. Each of these diseases can cause dehydration and sepsis, which in turn create baby-related complications. To combat the possibility of a bacteria-filled turkey, ensure that it has been fully cooked at 160 – 180 degrees Fahrenheit before you take a bite.
If your host prepared a pre-stuffed turkey—that is, if the turkey was stuffed before it was cooked—steer clear. Inside the turkey, the stuffing is shielded from the oven’s heat. This means that the stuffing cannot reach a temperature high enough to kill off harmful bacteria…at least, not without overcooking the turkey!
As the turkey cooks and its juices soak into the stuffing, “raw meat” bacteria like salmonella and E. Coli will also find themselves protected from the oven’s heat. Even if the turkey itself is cooked beautifully, the harmful bacteria can survive by “hiding” in the stuffing, which will never get hot enough to neutralize them.
An easy solution is to prepare the stuffing separately from the turkey. This way, you ensure that the bacteria have nowhere to hide.
Think twice before you lick the spoon! Uncooked cake and brownie batter (and cookie dough!) contains raw egg, an infamous carrier of salmonella. Wait for the desserts to finish cooking before you give in to your sweet tooth.
Tiramisu, Mousse, and Homemade Ice Cream
Each of these desserts contains raw egg.
Keep that hard cider out of your glass! According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), consuming alcohol of any kind, in any amount, and at any point in your pregnancy can put your baby at risk.
Drinking while pregnant allows alcohol to pass through your umbilical cord and into your baby. Exposing a fetus to alcohol can result in a variety of developmental disorders known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs). FASDs can be physical (including abnormal facial features or problems with vital organs), behavioral (such as hyperactive disorders and attention deficits), or intellectual (learning disabilities and speech or language delays). In extreme cases, consuming alcohol while pregnant can cause miscarriages and stillborn births.
It can be difficult to stick to non-alcoholic beverages when the rest of the family is enjoying a glass of wine, but it’s important to remember than even a sip may put your child’s health at risk.
If your apple cider is pasteurized—and, of course, non-alcoholic—then it is safe to drink. Unpasteurized apple cider, on the other hand, may contain the bacterium E. Coli. While an E. Coli infection is unlikely to directly cause a miscarriage, it can cause severe dehydration. Dehydration comes with its own health risks, including premature birth, low amniotic fluid levels, and birth defects.
Luckily, the pasteurization process eliminates the threat of E. Coli by treating the cider with mild heat. This destroys any enzymes that may cause spoilage and disease, leaving you in the clear.
Even if your eggnog is non-alcoholic, if it is homemade it still contains raw egg. Opt for a different drink to avoid the risk of salmonella. Store-bought, paesturized egg nog is on the safe list, however.
Cold Turkey Sandwich
Even when the feast is done, there are certain Thanksgiving-related foods to avoid. Cold meat may contain harmful bacteria, even if the meat was previously cooked. Listeria bacteria, in particular, can lurk in refrigerators and contaminate your leftover turkey.
To be safe, heat up your leftovers before you chow down. If you’re really craving cold cuts, skip the leftovers—and the deli counter—and buy the sealed, pre-packaged meat from the refrigerated section of your grocery store. These are considered safer because they are handled less, allowing for less risk of contamination or germ-spreading.
Contributing blog writer: Elizabeth Feins, a HealthLynked staff writer.
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