When you’re getting into the Christmas spirit, it’s a festive dampener to be told you can’t tuck into everything on the Christmas buffet. But it’s actually really important to follow the advice on food safety in pregnancy! The advice protects you and your unborn baby from picking up a nasty food-borne infection.
We worry about food safety for two very good reasons. The first is that it’s easier for pregnant women to develop severe food poisoning. The second is that some food-borne illnesses, like Listeria, can infect your unborn baby and lead to complications like pre-term labour or stillbirth.
The great news is there are still loads of delicious foods you can enjoy; and you also have the perfect excuse to turn down your Great Aunt’s notorious Christmas trifle. I’ve put together a quick guide to the foods you can enjoy and what to sidestep.
Firstly, a note on food preparation. While some foods definitely have to be avoided, a lot of the advice actually comes down to proper preparation and storage. Food poisoning is more likely when food isn’t fresh, isn’t washed, isn’t cooked to the right temperature, or is left out to cool. Always check use-by dates and follow the instructions for cooking and handling.
Pro tip if you’re the one cooking? Buy a food thermometer. They’re cheap and easy to find, you can Google the safe internal temperature of pretty much any protein, and it’s something you can actually use after pregnancy.
The nibbles platter
I can’t lie – sadly this is where a lot of the good stuff has to be avoided. Soft cheeses, blue cheese, pate, and processed meats such as salami are all out. So is pre-cut, pre-packaged fruit.
Crackers, nuts, crisps, freshly washed whole fruit and hard cheeses are all fine.
Seafood for Christmas lunch is an Australian tradition. For pregnancy, the general rule is nothing raw and nothing that’s precooked then eaten cold. This does unfortunately rule out oysters, sushi, sashimi and cold prawns. Some fish are also quite high in mercury – it’s best to steer clear of catfish, orange roughy/deep sea perch, shark/flake, swordfish and marlin.
Instead, fill up on fish that’s been well cooked and eat it while it’s hot off the grill.
Friends of ours have a Christmas brunch tradition of eating smoked salmon and brown bread with mimosas. If you’re pregnant, you’ll need to skip the smoked salmon. Swap it out for fresh avocado or sliced banana and honey, and top up your OJ with soda water instead of champagne.
The main event
This is the year to insist on the traditional hot Christmas dinner, even though it’s 40 degrees outside. We really don’t want pregnant women eating cold meats. Instead, fire up the barbecue or do the full roast. Turkey, chicken, beef & pork are all fine as long as they’ve been cooked to the right temperature and you eat them while hot.
A word of warning on stuffing – cooking it inside the bird isn’t safe. Instead, cook it separately in a baking dish.
If you’re eating salads on the side, make sure they are freshly prepared. Avoid any kind of pre-made, pre-packaged salad. The vegies and salad greens should all be thoroughly washed right before chopping.
Hot vegetable side dishes are great. Except for Brussel sprouts. No-one should be forced to eat Brussel sprouts.
A note on eggs
If your host is a kitchen whiz, chances are they have proudly whipped up homemade everything, including dressings, sauces, and desserts. The problem is that many of these homemade products contain raw eggs, which might carry salmonella. Homemade mayonnaise, aioli, uncooked meringue and ice cream are classic culprits.
Check with the chef and steer clear of any raw-egg containing products. This is one time where store-bought is probably better. Commercial versions that come from the shelf, rather than the refrigerated aisle, have been treated to avoid salmonella.
You know to avoid homemade icecream and uncooked meringue. It’s probably also best to avoid homemade custard if you don’t know how it was cooked. Swap for the store-bought versions and store them according to the instructions.
Don’t ever touch unpasteurized dairy products – they are one of the primary sources of Listeria. The good news is most dairy products in Australia are pasteurized – these are safe to eat. You also can’t go wrong with freshly washed and prepared fruit.
Finally, watch out for desserts unexpectedly soaked in alcohol.
Boxing Day leftovers
Come Boxing Day, all you want is to lie on the lounge watching cricket and eating leftovers. Sadly, there are pretty strict rules about leftovers for pregnant women. There’s too much to summarise here – instead Google the NSW Food Authority’s guidelines.