This sheet talks about the consumption of raw, undercooked, or cold meats and seafood in a pregnancy and while breastfeeding. This information should not take the place of medical care and advice from your healthcare provider.
What are raw, undercooked, or cold meats and seafood?
Raw meat or seafood is any meat or seafood product that has not been cooked at all. Undercooked meat or seafood has been partially cooked but has not been heated to the safe minimum internal temperature. Cold meats (also known as deli meats or cold cuts) and cold seafood are precooked meats or seafood that have been frozen or chilled for later use.
Raw, undercooked, or cold meats and seafood can contain bacteria and/or parasites that can cause foodborne illnesses. For this reason, it is recommended to cook meat and seafood up to at least the minimum internal temperature, and to reheat pre-cooked cold meats or seafood. See below:
|Meat/Seafood||Safe Minimum Internal Temperature|
|Fish and Shellfish||145 °F (63°C)|
|Pork||145 °F (63°C)|
|Reheat Cooked Ham||140 °F (60°C)|
|Beef (steaks, chops, and roasts)||145 °F (63°C)|
|Beef and Pork (ground)||160 °F (71°C)|
|Wild game||165 °F (74°C)|
|Poultry||165 °F (74°C)|
|Cold lunchmeat, hot dogs and deli meat or fermented/dry sausages||165 °F (74°C) Cook until steaming hot|
For more information on specific bacteria and parasites that can be found in foods, please read the individual MotherToBaby fact sheets:
- E.coli (https://mothertobaby.org/fact-sheets/e-coli-pregnancy/pdf/),
- Listeria (https://mothertobaby.org/fact-sheets/listeriosis-pregnancy/pdf/),
- Salmonella (https://mothertobaby.org/fact-sheets/salmonella-pregnancy/pdf/),
- Toxoplasmosis (https://mothertobaby.org/fact-sheets/toxoplasmosis-pregnancy/pdf/),
- Vibrio (https://mothertobaby.org/fact-sheets/vibrio-pregnancy/pdf/).
Methylmercury content is another concern with seafood. Please see our fact sheet at https://mothertobaby.org/fact-sheets/methylmercury-pregnancy/pdf/ for more information.
I heard on the news that a product I may have eaten has been recalled. Is there a place I can check?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a website where you can check for food recalls: https://www.foodsafety.gov/. If you heard about it on the news, write down all of the information from the news article and call the phone numbers or check the websites that they have provided. Because there can be a risk of infection from food cooked at home and not handled safely, you can learn about prevention and safe handling of meats and poultry on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) site. Click on the consumer section on their website: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/home.
How do I know if I have eaten raw, undercooked, or cold meat and seafood that is infected with bacteria or a parasite?
People could get sick from a restaurant with unsafe food handling practices, on a cruise, on a trip, a home-cooked meal or other food-related occasion and this is unlikely to get reported. Some people who become infected with bacteria or parasites show no symptoms. Others may have fever, diarrhea, stomach cramps, stomach ache, headache, muscle pain, swelling of lymph nodes, joint pain, and/ or vomiting, depending on the infection. The symptoms can start hours to weeks after eating the contaminated food.
If you are concerned that you have been infected with bacteria and/or parasites from meat or seafood,
ask your healthcare provider if there are tests to diagnosis the infection. In some cases, there may be medications that can treat the infection and reduce the chance of harm for your baby.
Does eating raw, undercooked, and/or cold meat and seafood increase the chance for miscarriage?
Miscarriage can occur in any pregnancy. If the meat/seafood is infected with certain bacteria or parasites and a person who is pregnant becomes ill from eating it, there may be an increased chance of pregnancy loss. High fever from the person’s infection can also increase risks to the baby.
Does eating raw, undercooked, or cold meat and seafood increase the chance for birth defects?
Every pregnancy starts out with a 3-5% chance of having a birth defect. This is called the background risk. When exposure to raw, undercooked, or cold meat and seafood occurs the chance for birth defects depends on whether the person who is pregnant becomes infected and by which parasite or bacteria.
For example, infants born to a person who had toxoplasmosis infection during the first trimester of pregnancy have about a 10-15% chance of being born with the infection themselves (called congenital toxoplasmosis). While the chance of transmission increases in the latter part of pregnancy, the most observed effects are seen with first trimester infection. Some infants with congenital toxoplasmosis will have problems with the brain, eyes, heart, kidneys, blood, liver, or spleen. Other foodborne infections such as E.coli, Listeria, and Salmonella have not been associated with a higher chance of birth defects.
Can eating raw, undercooked, or cold meat and seafood cause other pregnancy complications?
If the food is contaminated with bacteria or parasites and a person who is pregnant becomes infected, there can be additional risks in the second and third trimester. These might include preterm delivery (delivery before 37 weeks of pregnancy) or pregnancy loss.
|E coli||Preterm delivery and pregnancy loss|
|Salmonella||Pregnancy loss and infection of amniotic fluid|
|Listeria||Preterm delivery and pregnancy loss|
Does eating raw, undercooked, or cold meat and seafood in pregnancy cause long-term problems for the baby?
Toxoplasmosis infections can cause long-term problems for the baby, such as vision loss, hearing loss, or developmental delays. Many infected infants will have no problems at birth, but symptoms of congenital toxoplasmosis can occur months or even years after birth. For this reason, infants with congenital toxoplasmosis should be treated for the infection during the first year of life and then should be periodically checked for problems.
Listeriosis infections can also increase the chance for long-term health complications in children. These infections are uncommon among newborns but can present some problems for the baby if acquired. Newborns with Listeria infection can present with symptoms of sepsis (blood infection) or meningitis after birth. Meningitis is a condition where we can see areas of swelling around the brain and spinal cord in the baby. If not treated quickly with antibiotics, the effects of meningitis can lead to long-term problems for some children.
Can I breastfeed while eating raw, undercooked, or cold meat and seafood?
Breast milk contains important immune factors that can help protect your baby from infections, as well as providing nutritional and health benefits. Although there have been case reports suggesting Salmonella might have been passed from a person who is breastfeeding to a baby, most people with these types of infections do not need to stop breastfeeding. Diarrhea and other symptoms of E. coli infection may decrease your milk supply. In the case of both E.coli and Salmonella infections, be sure to practice good hand washing. If you suspect that the baby has symptoms, such as diarrhea, contact your pediatrician. Be sure to talk to your healthcare providers about all of your breastfeeding questions.
I have eaten raw, undercooked, or cold meat and seafood. Can it make it harder for me to get my partner pregnant or increase the chance of birth defects?
There is no evidence linking paternal exposure with a higher incidence of infection during pregnancy. Although Salmonella and E. coli are most often contacted through contaminated foods or animals, it can be passed from person to person. Wash hands often to help reduce the chance of passing the disease among people living in the house.
In general, exposures that fathers and sperm donors have are unlikely to increase risks to a pregnancy. For more information, please see the MotherToBaby fact sheet Paternal Exposures at https://mothertobaby.org/fact-sheets/paternal-exposures-pregnancy/pdf/.
Please click here for references.