sealPurdue News

March 29, 2002

New program stresses food safety as top priority for mothers-to-be

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Women crave different foods during pregnancy, but a Purdue University expert says a new program teaches women to be cautious about what they eat while caring for two.

Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium that can cause a pregnant woman and her baby to become ill when contaminated foods are eaten, says Donna Vandergraff, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program coordinator. The bacterium is found in soil, ground water, poultry and seafood, and on produce. It also can be in foods such as deli meats, hot dogs, soft cheeses, unpasteurized milk and meat spreads.

A new Purdue Extension program, called Safe Food and You, is educating women about listeriosis and the importance of food safety during pregnancy. The program teaches a mother-to-be about the risk of listeriosis and what can be done to prevent food-borne illness. The program also works with parents and small children to encourage proper handwashing, a major factor in minimizing the spread of diseases.

"Listeriosis can occur any time during pregnancy and can be a threat to the health of a mother and her baby," Vandergraff says. "During pregnancy, women are more prone to infection because of hormonal changes and listeriosis can lead to miscarriage and preterm labor."

Each year 2,500 cases of listeriosis are diagnosed, and about one-third of those cases happen during pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Four key points are taught during the lesson, which can take place in the home with an Extension educator or an EFNEP or Food and Nutrition program paraprofessional, Vandergraff says. Women who are interested in the Safe Food and You program can contact their local Extension educator or call 1-888-EXT-INFO.

The lesson is based on the four guidelines of the United States Department of Agriculture's Fight Bac program. The four guidelines to keep food safe from bacteria are:

  • Clean: Wash hands and kitchen surfaces often.
  • Separate: Keep raw and uncooked foods from cross-contaminating.
  • Cook: Use a food thermometer to determine if foods are cooked to the proper temperature.
  • Chill: Refrigerate or freeze foods promptly.

    "The bacteria gets into the food and grows at refrigerator temperature," Vandergraff says. "The bacteria can be killed in meats, seafood and poultry by cooking it until steaming hot, and raw vegetables should be washed before cooking. However, unpasteurized milk and soft cheese like feta, Brie and Camembert should be avoided."

    The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service also recommends that consumers use precooked or ready-to-eat perishable items as soon as possible, regularly clean refrigerators and keep refrigerators at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

    This food-borne illness causes flulike symptoms such as chills, nausea, fever and muscle aches, Vandergraff says. Women can be treated with antibiotics during their pregnancy to prevent the spread of infection to the fetus. Babies born with listeriosis also can be given antibiotics, according to the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

    Writer: Jennifer Doup, (765) 494-6682,

    Source: Donna Vandergraff, (765) 494-8538,

    Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes,;

    Related Web sites:
    Listeriosis and Pregnancy: What is your risk?
    Purdue researchers track deadly foodborne bacterium
    Fruits, vegetables require care to prevent illnesses

    Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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