Food Safety

MethylMercury Hazard

In January, 2001, the FDA released an advisory warning that women who might become pregnant or who are pregnant not to eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish because these fish may contain high levels of Methylmercury. Methylmercury is responsible for the outbreak of Minimata disease in Japan during the 60’s, characterized by multiple neurologic deficits. In pregnant women, the fetal brain accumulates the methylmercury, and testing has revealed a high incidence of Cerebral Palsy (CP), developmental delay and learning disabilities in affected children. Many experts also feel that the consumption of canned and fresh tuna should also be limited while pregnant.

In June 2014, the FDA published a draft update on their web site: Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know. Please go to this link for the latest information.


This food-borne bacteria can cause a rare infection called listeriosis. According to the FDA, an outbreak in 1985 in Los Angeles resulted in 142 cases of listeriosis including 46 deaths; 85 percent of the cases were Perinatal (pregnant women). The outbreak was traced to a soft, Mexican-style cheese, manufactured with contaminated milk (Jalisco cheese). Note that this cheese was not raw nor was it unpasteurized. The contamination occurred during routine commercial food preparation and/or packaging.

Listeria infection causes mild flu-like symptoms in an adult, but can have a more dangerous effect on a fetus, and can cause stillbirth.

To be on the safe side, it is advisable to avoid any raw or unpasteurized dairy product (such as raw milk), soft white cheeses such as brie, camembert, fresh blue cheese and Mexican white cheeses. But listeria has also been rarely found in hot dogs, bologna, other pre-packaged luncheon meats, ham, bacon, and lox (Ismoked salmon). It has been found in candied apples, lettuce, cantaloupes, ricotta cheese, and chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.

Our advice is to wash your fruits and vegetables, eat your meat hot and medium cooked or better, and only eat pasteurized dairy products (not raw). No raw cookie dough either.

Click here for the FDA article: Food Safety for Moms-To-Be: While You're Pregnant - Listeria


During the first trimester, it might be reasonable to avoid sushi. Many "experts" advise pregnant women to refrain from eating sushi altogether. This of course would be the absolutely most cautious approach, but is it reasonable?

Some sushi is vegetarian, that seems perfectly safe. Some sushi such as shrimp, crab and eel is cooked, so that seems safe. In the U.S., sushi is flash frozen before it can be served, this kills almost all parasites.

Sushi containing any of the fish on the high-mercury list should NOT be eaten. And always make sure the fish is fresh and the establishment is of high quality. It might be better to avoid "discount" sushi for example.Raw fish can transmit parasites and food poisoning can occur in anyone, not just pregnant women. The concern is that the diminished strength of the immune system during
pregnancy might increase the severity of the resulting illness.

Do pregnant women in Japan eat sushi?

Here is a quote from: How Safe is it to Eat Sushi or Raw Fish During Pregnancy?

"Everybody tells you to not eat sushi in pregnancy, but are they right? In Japan, sushi is considered healthy in pregnancy and there are many who believe that the American "pregnancy sushi ban" is insulting to Japanese culture."

"Eating sushi and raw fish is part of a healthy diet during pregnancy in Japan as long as you eat fish with safe mercury levels. There is no scientific evidence that eating sushi in pregnancy increases pregnancy complications. As long as you take certain precautions and eat low mercury fish then it should be safe to eat sushi in pregnancy."

Uncooked or very rare meats

There is a risk of ingesting a food parasite such as toxoplasmosis when eating uncooked meat. For this reason, we discourage eating raw beef dishes such as steak tartare, beef carpaccio or very rare steaks (medium rare is probable safer). All poultry products should be fully cooked (not pink) before eating. But foods that are cured such as corned beef and pastrami, or ceviche, raw fish that has been marinated, are considered the same as if they were cooked.


Previous versions of this Guide advised avoiding peanuts during pregnancy to help prevent your baby from becoming allergic to peanuts later in life. As with many areas in medicine, new information has resulted in a complete reversal of this advice. The new studies show exactly the opposite!

If you ingest specific foods during the pregnancy such as peanuts or peanut-containing foods, like peanut crackers or peanut butter, studies now show that your baby will have a lower chance of developing a peanut allergy in the future.

See this article: Eating peanuts while pregnant cuts child's risk of allergy

More FDA References

While You're Pregnant - Learn about foodborne illness and how to prevent certain foodborne risks during your pregnancy

Safe Eats - Eating Out & Bringing In
Welcome to Safe Eats, your food-by-food guide to selecting, preparing, and handling foods safely throughout your pregnancy and beyond!

Food Safety for Moms-To-Be