The chance of contracting a food borne illness from something on your Thanksgiving table is probably about .0013% and clearly, plenty of people eat these foods during pregnancy and are just fine. But as a semi-official pregnancy advisor person, I am obliged to warn you that some popular Thanksgiving foods do carry a risk. The thing about food borne illness and pregnancy is that although the chances of getting an infection from the food you eat is quite small, the risks of the illness are severe. The most dangerous can cause fetal or maternal death. Even less severe infections can be a big deal in pregnancy when the immune system is compromised and treatment is complicated.
The good news is that these risks are relatively easily avoided. All it takes is a trusty thermometer (Bring your own! Have your husband run interference while you surreptitiously poke the poultry!) and a willingness to be called a neurotic pregnant freak by mean-spirited family members.
In that spirit, here are the holiday foods most likely to land a pregnant woman in the hospital (not having a baby):
1. Undercooked Turkey
As a frighteningly large percentage of poultry is contaminated with salmonella, it’s really important to cook turkey thoroughly. The USDA Food Safety Service recommends that turkey be cooked to no lower than 165 degrees. If you want to be really hardcore about it, you can go to 180. Then you can use the leftover white meat to file down your callouses. As a side note, my husband informs me that in pro kitchen slang, cooking meat to excess is known as “killing the meat” which is somewhat confusing to me as it is so clearly already dead.
If you should be unlucky enough to be preparing the turkey yourself, take extra care to avoid getting any of that germy turkey juice anywhere near your eyes, mouth, or open wounds.
The Food Safety Commission describes stuffing as “An excellent medium for bacterial growth”. YUM! I knew that cooking the stuffing within the bird was controversial, but apparently, the soggy, spongy, deliciousness that is stuffing is prone to bacteria even without the raw turkey. Any meat or fish product used in the stuffing should be pre-cooked to avoid potential contamination. Stuffing should also be cooked as soon as it’s mixed, not allowed to sit out or in the refrigerator to fester. 165 degrees, again, is the magic number for bacterial obliteration.
I know eggnog is synonymous with the holiday season for a lot of people. But personally, I never really got the appeal of the gloop, except for the alcohol aspect. Even virgin eggnog is a pregnancy problem, seeing as it’s made with big piles of raw eggs and could harbor salmonella. Eggnog can be bought in a sort of packaged form that doesn’t include raw eggs, or homemade with instant pudding mix or custard powder. It’s not the same, obviously, but then, it’s not the same without the rum, either.
4. Unpasteurized Cider
Raw cider can be an E. Coli risk, which is a bummer since raw cider is really tasty. Luckily, pasteurized cider is pretty darn tasty too. Depending on where you live, pasteurization labeling may be required or not. If you’re having your cider hot, you might be okay. Pasteurized cider is just raw cider that’s been cooked and cooled. The temperature goal is about the same: 160 degrees.
I like Black Friday’s cold turkey sandwiches way more than Thanksgiving dinner’s hot turkey. Actually, my preferred method of eating turkey is peeled off the cold carcass and dipped into a vat of spicy mustard. Sadly, cold turkey is subject to the same listeria warning as deli meats. I remember this one hitting me hard when I was pregnant at Thanksgiving. Hot turkey sandwich? No, thank you very much. I’ll just wait until next year.
For more on getting through a Pregnant Thanksgiving, see Ceridwen’s post on Thanksgiving Survival Strategies.
For more on Pregnancy holiday food safety, see here.
photo: Leon Brocard/flickr