Food safety in pregnancy is not simple

Yesterday I enjoyed an aperitif at Houlihan’s with my friend Angélique. Although the conversation was excellent, ordering was complicated for me. I wasn’t supposed to eat at least half of the items offered, and another third of them didn’t sound good to me.

Pregnancy food safety guidelines combined with changing tastes and sensitivity to smells make ordering very difficult. On our trip home from Australia on Sunday, for example, I wanted to grab a sandwich at LAX, and because we were at a deli, that left only one choice for me: a chicken Panini. Everything else had unheated deli meat – known to put me at risk for listeria.

At Houlihan’s, I used to enjoy the tuna wontons, but the tuna is only seared and I don’t trust raw fish right now. I couldn’t eat the very appetizing brie starter because the waitress didn’t think it was heated, and the bruschetta that we did share was a big question mark for me. It had goat’s cheese together with the tomato mix. We now know that tomatoes are all supposedly safe from Salmonella, but how safe was the cheese? I take at least a little comfort in knowing that I’ve been fully vaccinated against Hepatitis A thanks to my past wild travels. Angélique and I also shared a spinach and artichoke dip that came with fresh cilantro and scallions sprinkled all over the chips. I grow my own cilantro at home and know how hard it is to keep it clean and out of the snails’ reach …

Finally, very hungry, I just ate and tried to ignore the smaller risk factors. I did my best but I still didn’t feel confident that my food was safe. Who knows or can control what was happening in the kitchen?

For those who want to tell me, and every pregnant woman, how simple it is to eat safely during pregnancy, I beg to differ. See “Listeria warning for pregnant women” for example. Dr. Paul McKeown says, “Simple measures such as ensuring that the fridge is in good working order with the temperature between two and five degrees Celsius, eating food that is well within its use-by date so that harmful bugs will not have had time to grow and practising good general food hygiene will reduce the risk of listeriosis.”

We, as consumers, can reduce some of the risks but we cannot eliminate them. And I find that the more I know about food safety, the more complicated all of this becomes. When you’re hungry and the airline offers you a roll with cheddar and pastrami … and you ask your food safety expert partner, “if I pick off the pastrami, is the sandwich safe to eat and how much cross contamination might have taken place?” and he shrugs … sometimes you have to decide for yourself.