Festive and pregnant? How to eat safely, and well, these holidays

Food safety for pregnant women is especially important at Christmas time
12 December 2023 | Pregnancy

With the festive season upon us, Julia Zinga, a dietitian at the Women's, has developed an easy-to-read food safety guide, focusing on pregnancy.

While December is the time of year to enjoy festivities with family and friends, it is also important that pregnant women are:

  • mindful of the foods they consume, and
  • whether they are safely prepared
  • kept at the right temperature.

The below information can keep you and your baby safe from listeria, salmonella and toxoplasmosis, which are all especially dangerous during pregnancy.

All members of the family are encouraged to get familiar with this simple guide.

Good temperature control

Take care to make sure food is properly refrigerated. These steps work well:

  • take a cooler bag or esky to transport perishable items from the shops to your home
  • separate raw meats from cooked food, wrap carefully to avoid contamination, and keep in the coldest part of the fridge
  • hot foods must be kept hot and cooked thoroughly. Don’t eat cooked food that has dropped to room temperature.

Eat left-overs within 24 hours

Leftover meals can be especially delicious if the flavours develop further! However, make sure you:

  • seal your leftover food in clean, airtight containers
  • heat them up thoroughly – stir your food to ensure even heat distribution
  • eat within one day of cooking.

Choose low-mercury food and cook thoroughly

Seafood is a common menu item this time of year, and highly nutritious.

Make it safe by ensuring:

  • Flake (gummy shark), broadbill swordfish and marlin are eaten in limited amounts. These fish are high in mercury and should only be eaten once per fortnight, alongside no other fish in that time
  • Catfish and orange ‘roughy’ (deep sea perch) are eaten in limited amounts. These fish are also high in mercury and should only be eaten once per week, alongside no other fish in that time
  • Seafood is cooked thoroughly and eaten hot. This includes shellfish, like prawns or lobster, all other fish, and oysters (which can be grilled with a sauce on top).

Choose platters wisely

Cheese platters and other ‘nibbles’ may pose a listeria risk. Ideas to enjoy them safely include:

  • take your own platter to parties so you have more confidence in the storage conditions
  • choose hard cheeses or labneh (e.g. yoghurt cheese) or cream cheese
  • include yoghurt-based dips like tzatziki or olive-oil based dips like pesto – avoid hummus
  • enjoy vegie sticks, nuts, dried fruit and wholegrain crackers.

Avoid alcohol and limit caffeine consumption

Choosing safe drinks is also an important consideration during the festive period:

  • Keep your espresso style coffee consumption to a maximum of 1-2 cups per day during pregnancy. Alternatively, you could choose 3 cups of instant coffee per day or 4-5 cups per day of hot tea
  • Avoid energy drinks that contain guarana or caffeine
  • No alcohol should be consumed at any stage of pregnancy

For more on healthy eating during pregnancy, see: Food & nutrition in pregnancy.