As the CDC investigates a deadly listeria outbreak, here's what an expert says pregnant women should refuse to eat

Getty ImagesPregnant people need to avoid certain foods.
  • With an uptick in news about food-poisoning outbreaks, pregnant women need to be aware of which foods carry certain risks.
  • A listeria outbreak in four states has sickened at least eight people, killing one, according to the CDC.
  • Foodborne illnesses such as listeria can be riskier for pregnant women and their unborn children than the average person.
  • Food-poisoning expert Bill Marler advises people to avoid foods including sprouts, raw eggs, and pre-cut fruits and vegetables while pregnant.

Food-poisoning outbreaks have been sweeping the United States. And, with news of outbreaks on the rise, expectant mothers need to be especially careful.

On Thursday, the CDC announced it is investigating a listeria outbreak that has sickened eight people across four states. All eight people have been hospitalized, and one person has died. According to the CDC, the outbreak has been linked to sliced deli meat.

While foodborne illnesses are rarely pleasant, certain types can hit pregnant people and newborns especially hard. According to food-poisoning expert Bill Marler, listeria should be a top concern for any expectant mother.

“Listeria illnesses in mums pass to the baby in uterus and can kill or damage the baby,” Marler, who is an attorney specializing in foodborne-illness cases, told Business Insider.

Read more:

212 people are dead and hundreds more are seriously ill in the largest listeria outbreak in history

More than 200 people died in a listeria outbreak stemming from a meat-production plant in Polokwane, South Africa, last year. Newborns were the most likely to be impacted by the outbreak, with 91 babies under the age of 28 days old dying as a result of listeriosis.

To reduce the risk of foodborne illness, pregnant women should avoid eating certain foods, according to Marler and the CDC. Here’s what the food-poisoning expert says to cut from your diet, according to a list Marler wrote for Food Safety News and shared in conversations with Business Insider.

Deli meat

Hollis Johnson

Ready-to-eat hot dogs, lunch meats, and cold cuts can be contaminated after factory processing, according to the CDC. Because these items are not typically cooked, the listeria isn’t killed though heat.

The CDC advises that people can prevent a listeria infection when handling deli meat by not letting juice from packaging get on other foods or utensils, hand washing, and throwing out meat sliced at local delis after three to five days in the refrigerator.

Raw or undercooked meat


Rare meat is one of a number of things that Marler himself doesn’t eat and advises against pregnant women consuming. If meat isn’t cooked to 160 degrees, he says, bacteria can thrive and cause E. coli or Salmonella poisoning.

Imported soft cheeses like brie and feta

Listeria concerns mean that pregnant women shouldn’t consume cheeses including brie, Camembert, Roquefort, feta, and Gorgonzola.

Prewashed and precut fruits and vegetables

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Precut and prewashed fruits and veggies caused a number of issues in 2018. McDonald’s salads were linked to a parasitic illness outbreak that sickened more than 390 people, and an E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce sickened at least 197 and killed five people.

“Not every lettuce leaf in the field is contaminated with E. coli, but some of them are,” Marler said earlier this year regarding the risks of prewashed, bagged lettuce. “And when you mix and match it at a processing facility and chop it up, you get what you get.”

Raw milk

Shutterstock/ AndreyCherkasov

Marler says raw milk “can be infected with all types of bacteria.”

“Some argue that milk loses nutrients during pasteurization, but the risk from coli and other pathogens found in raw milk outweigh any possible benefits,” he wrote on Food Safety News.

Raw juice

Raw, unpasteurized juice presents similar issues to raw milk.

“There’s no benefit big enough to take away the risk of drinking products that can be made safe by pasteurization,” Marler previously told Business Insider.

Raw or undercooked eggs

Narong Jongsirikul/Shutterstock

Eggs and products such as homemade Caesar salad dressing, mayonnaise, ice cream, custards, and hollandaise sauce have the potential to carry salmonella. In April, the FDA announced a recall of 206 million eggs over salmonella-contamination concerns.

Oysters, clams, and mussels

Melie Nasr /

Marler says he has seen more foodborne illnesses linked to shellfish in the past five years than in the two preceding decades.

According to Marler, global warming is heating up oceans and allowing microbial growth to thrive, which encourages the spread of foodborne illnesses like norovirus and vibrio infections.

Smoked fish

Smoked seafood comes with listeria concerns, though canned and shelf-safe fish (such as tuna) is safe to eat. However, pregnant women and nursing mothers should avoid fish with high levels of mercury – not because of food-poisoning concerns, but because high mercury levels can harm brain development.

Home-canned food

Stick to professionally canned jams while pregnant, Marler says. Home-canned goods can contain botulism, or be contaminated in other ways, as DIY canning operations don’t have the same safety regulations as professional enterprises.



Because sprouts are grown in standing water, they are a prime spot for bacteria such as salmonella to thrive. Sprout-related outbreaks are common, with more than 30 bacterial outbreaks – primarily related to salmonella and E. coli – happening in the past two decades.

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