Listeria Hysteria! Can I Please Have Some Soft Cheese?

I’m sure you’ve all come across Listeria Hysteria, also known as, ‘can I please, please eat some Camembert?!’

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I’ve seen pregnant women go hungry at weddings, I’ve seen them fighting with waiters in restaurants, I’ve even heard of an obstetrician telling a pregnant woman to eat deep-fried food because it had a lower risk of Listeria than fresh food!

Since diabetes and obesity-related illnesses are one of our biggest killers, what is the big deal with Listeria? Why are we so worried about cold meats and sushi?

A quick disclaimer before we get into it. I am not a medical professional. I cannot diagnose or cure any illness. All this information is from Food Standards Australia New Zealand, the government body that ensures safe food by developing effective food standards.

What Is It?

Listeria is a microorganism that can contaminate food and cause infection. It’s a very common bacteria, and it can contaminate many different kinds of food. And this is why we get so stressed because it can be on anything that you eat.

Listeria not usually dangerous; you’ve probably eaten it before in your life and it’s not been a problem. However, it is dangerous for pregnant women as it can cause miscarriage, stillbirth or blood infections. There’s a higher chance of getting a Listeria infection for pregnant women than the rest of the population, but before you panic, it’s still pretty rare.

High-Risk Foods

There are a few high-risk foods including anything from the open deli section where it’s all laid out in front of you like cold meat, ham, salami and cheese. Because they’re all just lined up next to each other, Listeria can very easily contaminate the entire shelf of food.

The other really risky area is pre-prepared or pre-packaged fruit and vegetables. Like those little plastic bags of cut-up apple that you can get from McDonald’s or a big bag of spinach or lettuce or salad leaves from the supermarket.

Other high risk foods include soft or semi-soft cheese (including Brie, Camembert, Cream Cheese, Cottage Cheese) plus pâté, unpasteurised dairy and soft-serve ice cream. Smoked fish and cold pre-cooked chicken also high-risk.

But a recent big outbreak of Listeria was actually in aeroplane food.

No wonder you’re feeling overwhelmed! No wonder you’re confused about what you actually can eat and what’s safe. Lots of these foods are otherwise quite healthy foods for pregnancy, and it’s very difficult, nearly impossible, to avoid eating every single one of the foods for nine entire months.

But, I want you to know that there are some really simple things that you can do to reduce your risk of exposure to Listeria. These are all taken from the Food Standards website.

Eat Freshly Cooked Or Freshly Prepared Foods

In an ideal world, you would eat foods prepared and cooked fresh in your home. If you’ve got a lifestyle that allows for this, that is the number one, safest thing to do.

But most of us like to eat in restaurants from time to time and this is another tricky area! Restaurants, in general, are not the most hygienic places! Order freshly cooked, hot food, and avoid salad bars and bain-maries. Any food that’s been sitting around, open and not served steaming hot is going to have a higher risk of contamination.

Eat Your Food Piping Hot

Heat will kill the bacteria, so many foods that you may be worried are unsafe can be made safer by heating them thoroughly and eating them whilst they are still hot.

If you want to eat higher risk foods such as cold meats or soft cheese, eat them piping hot. For example salami on a pizza, ricotta in cannelloni or brie in a toasted sandwich.

If you want to eat leftovers the next day for lunch, refrigerate them straight away and reheat and eat within 24 hours. Make sure it steaming hot all the way through and if you’re using a microwave mix well to avoid cold pockets.

Buy Your Food Individually Wrapped

In general, a safer way to buy high-risk foods is in individual packages. If you buy cheese or meat that is individually packaged by the manufacturer there is less risk of contamination.

Thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables before consuming.

Nourish Thyself

One thing I do want to say is, people tell me all the time when they’re pregnant Gosh, I can’t wait until the baby’s born! The first thing I’m going to eat is… whichever contraband food they’ve been missing for nine months. If I could offer you one small piece of advice, I would say make your first postpartum meal something that’s really nourishing and rejuvenating for your body.

Nearly 200 cultures around the world have these traditional foods and dietary guidelines for postpartum women. If you’re interested in more about this, please check out my book Nourishing Newborn Mothers.

I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below. And, as always, please share this with any pregnant friends who might be concerned about what’s safe to eat and what’s not.

If you want more details to click through to the Food Standards website, they’ve got quite thorough lists and charts for different foods.