What are raw, undercooked, or cold meats and seafood?
Raw meats are meats that have not been cooked. Undercooked meats are meats that have been cooked only partly, such that they are not cooked all the way through, or not cooked with as much heat or for as much time as would be considered normal for cooking the particular type of meat. In terms of health risks, undercooking meat means not cooking it to a particular temperature and keeping it hot long enough to meet public health guidelines for preparation of the particular meat type. Cold meats are meat that have been cooked, but are sold and/or served cold. Cold meats include delicatessen meats (deli meats, and other meats that are used for cold sandwiches. The term seafood refers to fish, including vertebrate (bony) fish, or invertebrates (shellfish). Like land meats, seafood can be cooked, undercooked, or cooked and then served cold. Raw, undercooked, and cold meat and seafood carry a risk of being infected with disease causing organisms, such as at type of bacterial called Listeria monocytogenes, which causes what is called listeriosis. In contrast, meat and fish cooked to an adequate temperature for an enough time, and not subsequently exposed to raw meat or fish, are safe in terms of the potential for harboring disease-causing organisms.
However, there is also a health issue connected with the potential for seafood to be contaminated with organic mercury, whether or not it is cooked. Mercury is a heavy metal that is dangerous for both you and your baby. It occurs in the environment as elemental mercury (molecules consisting only of mercury atoms), inorganic mercury compounds (molecules consisting of mercury atoms plus atoms of other elements, but without a carbon-based structure to the molecules), and organic mercury compounds. Resulting mostly from industrial pollution of bodies of water, organic mercury is the most toxic type of mercury and it is connected with fish in particular. The amounts of mercury vary between different types of fish, and the risk of mercury contamination must be weighed against established benefits of eating seafood while pregnant. These benefits result from the presence of healthy fats and high quality protein in fish, so the trick is to choose the correct fish and to consume them in optimal amounts.
Is there a safe level of raw, undercooked, or cold meats and seafood that I can consume during pregnancy?
You should avoid all raw and undercooked meats and seafood. As for cooked seafood, professional opinion on this matter has evolved over the years. In the past, pregnant women were advised not to eat fish, due to the danger of mercury contamination. More recently, pregnant women were told the opposite, namely that they should eat fish, because fish are an excellent source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These fatty acids are important in the development of the baby’s brain. Currently, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that pregnant women eat fish in particular quantities, paying attention to the type of fish.
Fish that tend to contain high mercury levels and that should be avoided during pregnancy include swordfish, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, and Gulf of Mexico tilefish. Fish that tend to be low in mercury, (are safe to eat) include salmon, tilapia, shrimp, certain types of tuna (canned-light, yellow fin), catfish, and cod.
ACOG recommends that pregnant women consume 8-12 ounces (225-340 grams, 4-6 portions) of such low mercury fish per week, which is far in excess of the average amount of fish consumed weekly by most pregnant women. Certain fish, such as albacore tuna are considered to carry medium risk of mercury contamination; of such fish, it is ok for you to consume one portion per week, but you should add a few portions of low mercury fish as well.
Can raw, undercooked, or cold meats and seafood make it harder for me to get pregnant?
Studies have correlated the level of mercury in the bloodstream of human women with levels of luteinizing hormone (LH), a hormone that comes from the pituitary gland is vital for the function of the ovaries in females and the testes in males. Rodent studies and tests on women undergoing in vitro fertilization have suggested that mercury may have a negative effect on ovarian function and on fertility. Considering the available study results together, it is plausible that mercury toxicity resulting from eating mercury-contaminated fish, but you and/or by your male partner can indeed make it harder for you to become pregnant. However, you can reduce this possibility by avoiding fish with high mercury risk, such as swordfish, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, and Gulf of Mexico tilefish, and opting instead for low-mercury fish, such as salmon and tilapia.
Can raw, undercooked, or cold meats and seafood cause a miscarriage?
If you develop listeriosis from eating raw, undercooked, or cold meats or fish, this can cause a spontaneous abortion (miscarriage). It also can cause premature labor and delivery, infection of the membranes that surround the developing baby (chorioamnionitis), and stillbirth.
Can raw, undercooked, or cold meats and seafood during my pregnancy cause a birth defect?
If you develop listeriosis from eating raw, undercooked, or cold meats or fish, this can cause problems with the newborn, such as neonatal sepsis (infection throughout the newborns system), pneumonia, or meningitis. A study of Chinese pregnancies and babies has revealed a possible association between the kind of mercury toxicity that you can develop from eating high-mercury fish and neural tube defects (incomplete closure of the bone around the brain or spinal cord).
Are there long-term consequences to my eating raw, undercooked, or cold meats and seafood?
Various studies have suggested that mercury toxicity from maternal consumption of contaminated fish can affect the development of the baby’s brain with negative effects on the childs ability to think. The risk is offset by the benefits of receiving omega-3 fatty acids in fish that you consume, but you can improve the benefit, and eliminate the risk, by consuming those fish that have low levels of mercury, while avoiding high-risk types of fish.
I just found out I am 6 weeks pregnant and last weekend I ate raw, undercooked, or cold meats or seafood. Will my baby have a problem?
In the event that you consumed food contaminated with L. monocytogenes, symptoms can take a few days to a month to develop. However, even if you do develop listeriosis, it is treatable with antibiotics, so you can protect your baby. Overall, eating cooked fish is good for your baby, but if you consumed a high-mercury fish such as tilefish or shark last weekend, from this point you should consume only fish with low mercury levels, such as salmon, tilapia, shrimp, certain types of tuna (canned-light, yellow fin), catfish, and cod, and you should try to eat a few cooked portions per week.
Is binge eating of raw, undercooked, or cold meats and seafood on only some days of the week as risky as eating these foods everyday but at lower amounts?
You should not binge on any kind of food while pregnant, as this causes gastroesophageal reflux and heartburn. As for risks associated with bacterial contaminated food and mercury, the risk from different eating patterns is roughly the same. You should avoid raw and undercooked foods, but eat a few portions of properly cooked low-mercury fish per week.
Is it ok to eat raw, undercooked, or cold meats and seafood after the first trimester? strong>
Throughout pregnancy, you should avoid raw and undercooked foods, but eat a few portions of cooked low-mercury fish per week.
How will I know if raw, undercooked, or cold meats and seafood have hurt my baby?
Every pregnancy begins with a 2 3.5 percent chance of a birth defect, independent of consumption of particular foods. In the even that you develop mercury toxicity from consuming contaminated fish over long periods of time, problems with learning or behavior in the child might be linked to your consumption of the fish. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to know if theres a connection.
Is there any hope for a baby who has been exposed to raw, undercooked, or cold meats, and seafood throughout pregnancy?
Yes. Most of the time the mother does not get sick from raw or undercooked meat or fish, and most women actually consume inadequate amounts of fish, rather than too much. Following the guidelines presented in this report is a way to reduce the chances that you and your baby will have a problem.
Can I consume raw, undercooked, or cold meats and seafood while breastfeeding?
While in the breastfeeding stage, you should apply the same guidelines regarding meat and seafood that you have applied throughout pregnancy, namely avoiding raw fish (including sushi), undercooked meats and fish, and deli meats, while consuming plenty of low-mercury fish, but not high-mercury fish.
What if the father of the baby consumes raw, undercooked, or cold meats, and seafood prior to conception?
There is some possibility that mercury contamination from seafood can affect the male testes in ways that will make conception more difficult to achieve.
Resources on consumption of raw, undercooked, or cold meats and seafood in pregnancy:
For more information about raw, undercooked, or cold meats and seafood during pregnancy, contact http://www.womenshealth.gov/ (800-994-9662 [TDD: 888-220-5446] or check the following links:
- United States Food and Drug Administration: Food Safety for Moms-to-Be: Safe Eats – Meat, Poultry & Seafood.
- Mayo Clinic: Pregnancy and fish: What’s safe to eat?