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Playing It Safe: Deli Meats

Listeria Could Be Lurking in Your Fridge
-- By Becky Hand, Licensed and Registered Dietician

A lunch-time sandwich of lean turkey and low-fat Swiss on whole-grain with lettuce, tomato and mustard is perfectly healthy - when you're not pregnant. But when you're eating for two, some foods in your refrigerator are not safe, including deli meats, hot dogs and refrigerated, ready-to-eat meats.

The danger comes from a bacteria called Listeria.

Listeria is found everywhere. Listeria can cause a food-borne illness called listeriosis, which is extremely dangerous for a pregnant women and her unborn baby. Listeriosis can cause premature delivery, miscarriage, and fetal death. A pregnant woman is more susceptible to Listeriosis because of the normal pregnancy changes that affect your immune system.

Listeria are unusual because they can grow at refrigeration temperatures of 40 degrees or below. Only cooking kills them. Therefore follow these food safety tips:
  • Do not eat hot dogs, luncheon meats, or deli meats unless they are reheated until steaming hot. That means your favorite sandwich is OK to eat if you heat the meat (in the microwave, for example) before putting it on the sandwich.
  • Do not store lunch meat for more than 3-5 days, and always store it in the coldest part of the refrigerator.

  • Do not eat refrigerated pate, and meat spreads. Canned or shelf-stable pate and meat spreads can be eaten.

  • Clean your refrigerator regularly.

  • Use perishable, ready-to-eat, and precooked items as soon as possible.
  • Make sure your refrigerator always stays at 40 degrees or below.
  • Listeriosis may cause flulike symptoms with fever, chills, muscle aches, diarrhea, and upset stomach. It can take a few days or even weeks to appear. Consult your healthcare provider if you have these symptoms or believe you have eaten a contaminated product.

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    Member Comments About this Article
    "About the nitrate free comments. Listeria is a bacteria. It's growth has nothing to do with nitrates. Those two health concerns have nothing to do with eachother. You can just as easily get listeria from organic xyz free meats as you can from the regular chemical cocktail meats. If fact they stuck all those preservative in there in part to try to prevent listeria growth. Listeria is one of the few bacteria that can grow well at fridge temp. Listeria is associated with a high risk of m/c. ..." -- LUCKYJAY
    "It amazes me that so many people leave comments that say they ate lunch meats and had no problems. I'm glad it worked out ok for you but they made this a well known change in pregnancy diet recommendations because so many other women have not faired so well. Everything in life is a risk and anything can happen but if I can make a small change to help prevent it then I am going to! If you have ever experienced a miscarriage you know the many lines of guilt that go through your mind...did I? what ..." -- SHERIDANKC
    "I've been eating a lot of lunch meat too, because it's all that sounds good to me... I'm so picky right now." -- JENIBREN22
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    About The Author
    Becky Hand
    Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. She teaches prenatal classes and counsels individuals, helping women eat right and stay fit before, during and after their pregnancies.
    Becky Hand


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