Here’s a quick summary of things to look out for if you’re pregnant and eating meat:
See my Listeria page for the full story. In brief, consuming pâté is a well documented risk for Listeria, and while not advised to avoid in the UK, cold cuts of meat (packs of ham, sliced beef, salami etc) may also pose a risk.
Toxoplasmosis is a parasite which can be found in cat and other animal faeces and the muscle of meat (the US Centers for Disease Control have a nice diagram of the lifecycle). Humans can contract it through eating undercooked meat, touching animal faeces, or contact with contaminated soil (e.g. gardening or unwashed vegetables). There were 351 cases in England and Wales in 2014, 32 of which were in pregnant women, and 11 in newborns. So very few reported cases, however, many more will have been infected without symptoms. Studies in Kent and London show around 10-15% of the pregnant women have been infected at some point. The infection is only a risk to your baby if you get infected for the first time while pregnant. If this happens, the infection can pass to the unborn child causing miscarriage, stillbirth or developmental problems.
The NHS site advises being cautious of cold cured meat as it is not cooked and to avoid undercooked meat. There are other risks for toxoplasmosis which are covered in my “Other risks in pregnancy” page.
Vitamin A is an interesting one. In the UK, we are told to avoid products high in vitamin A – namely liver, and any Vitamin A supplements. This is because in high doses, vitamin A may cause deformities/abnormalities in the foetus. However, in areas of the world where diet is poor and vitamin A deficiency is common, the World Health Organization advise vitamin A supplements are taken. A lack of vitamin A may affect both mum and baby, and may lead to night blindness in the mother. As this is not an issue in the UK, avoiding high levels of vitamin A is recommended.
The NHS don’t specifically mention this infection in their guidance, but maybe it’s grouped under “food poisoning”. Hepatitis E is a viral infection, which can be very serious in pregnant women, with death rates of up to 25% reported. In the UK, around 800 cases are reported each year, the main source of infection being undercooked pork products.
What did I do?
As I’ve mentioned previously, I kept to all the UK Listeria guidelines, and also avoided cold cuts of meat. I considered my own personal risk of contracting toxoplasmosis for the first time in pregnancy was low (I’ve eaten lots of rare meat, lived abroad, own a cat), so I did eat a few medium steaks, but avoided very rare meat. I avoided consuming liver, and made sure my sausages and other pork was well cooked.