Before the weather cools down for fall and winter, September is always the time that calls for barbecue outings amongst friends and families. Now that you are eating for two, you are probably wondering if there is anything new to barbecues that you should pay special attention to. Your intuition is absolutely correct! There are a couple of smart precautions that you can take and foods that you need to watch out for so that you can best protect your bump while enjoying yourself.
1. Burgers and Hot Dogs: Processed meat like patties and hot dogs, when undercooked, can pose dangers to pregnant women because it carries a type of bacteria called Listeria that can potentially lead to miscarriages, stillborn births and birth effects. But since heat can destroy the bacteria, you will just have to stay away from raw meat and make sure that your patties are cooked through. And remember, sometimes color itself isn’t the most reliable measure – always stick a skewer into the thickest part of the meat to make sure that the juices run clear. Pregnancy weakens your immune system and can leave you more vulnerable to food poisoning, so even if normally you always like your burgers medium-rare, it’s best to go for a well-done burger for now.
What is Listeria? Listeria, also known as Listeria monocytogenes, is a bacteria that can be found in soil and water and it primarily affects meat and vegetables. Listeria can be harmful to pregnant women as their immune systems are lowered and are therefore more susceptible to illness caused by the bacteria. Pasteurization and cooking meats and vegetables thoroughly is the best way to ensure safely avoiding listeria.
2. Fish and Seafood: Same thing applies to fish and seafood - you will have to make sure that it’s cooked right through. Although the type of food poisoning you can get from eating undercooked fish or meat won’t harm your baby directly, it’s possible that it will give you diarrhea, vomiting or stomach cramps which will make your body more susceptible. Check if the fish is cooked by sticking a knife into the flesh and pulling it aside – the flesh should be opaque. For clams and mussels, make sure that the shells are open when they are done; otherwise, it’s safer to avoid them. Also, if you are firing the grill, make sure to use separate utensils for raw and cooked flesh, and never put cooked food on a plate that has been used for raw fish or meat.
3. Barbecued Meat: As with all the proteins we’ve mentioned it’s important to make sure barbecued meat is cooked thoroughly. Additionally, there have been preliminary studies regarding other risk factors that expecting moms should be aware. A study completed in 2012 on women who ate barbecued meat in the third trimester of pregnancy suggests that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – a potentially harmful compound created when the meat’s fats come in contact with the charcoal smoke – may affect fatal development and lead to underweight babies. More research on this topic needs to be done, but if you are concerned, the safest option is to ask for a piece of cooked chicken done over the oven instead of getting a piece off the grill.
4. Potato and Egg Salads: Salads always add freshness and flavors to barbecued meat, but take special notice to make sure that these sides are freshly made. If the salads are not kept on ice and are left out for more than two hours, you might have to be careful because airing and especially high temperature can contaminate these dishes with bacteria like Listeria, a pathogen that can be dangerous for pregnant women. The same rule applies to any dips made with store bought mayo, Greek yogurt or sour cream.
5. Homemade ice cream: Who doesn't like a little sweet? But before helping yourself to a scoop, check with the host to make sure that its ingredients don't contain raw eggs. Cold temperature doesn't suffice to kill bacteria like Salmonella, which can get you sick and bring on dehydration – something that can cause a contraction.
6. Sprouts: Although nutritious and tasty, the fact that these vegetables typically grow in a moist environment makes them ideal incubators for illness-causing bacteria like Listeria and E. Coli. To best protect your immune system and your baby, try avoiding bean sprouts and alfalfa at the outings– skip these for burger toppings and go for tomatoes and lettuce instead.