Foods to avoid in Pregnancy

Written by

Rob Buist

Published on


Food Borne Infections:

Your unborn baby is very well protected from infections when they are inside the womb. There are a remarkably small number of infections that can cross the placenta and harm your baby. Two of these harmful infections are carried in food – Toxoplasma and Listeria.

Toxoplasma is rare but it causes potentially devastating birth defects. It is found in cat faeces. This is why you should not handle cat litter and if you are gardening you must wear gloves. However most congenital toxoplasma infections arise from pregnant women eating undercooked meat. If farm animals consume cat faeces the toxoplasma cysts wind up in their muscles – i.e. meat. The cysts are easily destroyed by thorough cooking but this is why you should make sure your meat is cooked right through (or, having read about all of this you may wish to become a vegetarian!). 

Listeria is also rare but it can cause miscarriages or premature births. Listeria is classically found in soft or white cheeses, particularly camembert and brie. However it is important to know that Listeria can be found in pretty much any food that has been cooked or prepared in any way, is then refrigerated and then served cold. So in addition to soft or white cheeses you need to be careful of deli meats, cooked then chilled chicken and pre-prepared salads. So salads or sandwiches made with cooked cold chicken are not okay. You need to make sure you (or whoever is preparing food for you) wash salad ingredients thoroughly. It is fine to eat leftovers as long as they are heated right through – they should be “piping hot”.

Salmonella is another food borne infection well worth avoiding when you are pregnant – and when you’re not pregnant for that matter – even though it does not specifically “target” the baby in the same way as those infections described above. Salmonella can be found in raw eggs, undercooked meat and chicken as well as all sorts of sprouts including alfalfa sprouts. 

As with many issues in pregnancy a common sense approach works. It is ok to eat food that is:

  • Freshly prepared from fresh ingredients, or
  • That is cooked through and served hot (including seafood).

So if you’re desperate for prosciutto and mozzarella put them on a pizza, fully cook them at 200 degrees C and you will be fine.

Food that has been cooked, processed or manhandled in pretty much any way before being refrigerated then served cold may not be ok.

Mercury in Fish

Fish is an excellent food to consume when you are pregnant. It is low in sugar, fat and carbs and it contains Omega-3 fatty acids.

However some fish may contain increased levels of mercury – which may harm your baby’s brain – so it is important to only eat 2 to 3 serves of most fish per week. Very large fish – such as swordfish or marlin – are best limited to one serve per fortnight.


Excessive amounts of caffeine may increase the risk of miscarriage or premature birth. However normal caffeine intake poses no risk to you or your baby. One to two single shot espresso type coffees per day are perfectly safe as are up to four cups of tea. However watch out for sports and energy drinks that can contain caffeine.


Don’t make me write it. You know the drill.

Source and further information: NSW Food Authority. Food Safety During Pregnancy.