Preparation Affects Fish Safety During Pregnancy

by Colette Bouchez

Guidelines suggesting that women limit tuna, Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel and Tilefish consumption, to just 6 ounces per week during pregnancy fall short in not emphasizing the importance of fish preparation, and how this influences many of the dangers linked to fish consumption

New FDA guidelines omit important safety concerns

The FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency joined forces to issue new guidelines suggesting that women limit white albacore tuna consumption, along with Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel and Tilefish, to just 6 ounces per week during pregnancy. But medical author and pregnancy expert Colette Bouchez says pregnant women also need to be aware that how you prepare your fish can make a big difference in the safety profile of your dinner plate.

"The new FDA guidelines are a step in the right direction, but where they fall short is in not emphasizing the importance of fish preparation, and how this can influence many of the dangers linked to fish consumption," says Bouchez, author of Your Perfectly Pampered Pregnancy, (Doubleday/Broadway Books, Feb. 2004).

The FDA's concerns over fish center around the dangers of mercury poisoning -- a fear that was echoed simultaneously by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) when they cautioned pregnant women against the consumption of shark and all tuna.

But according to Bouchez, equally as dangerous is a bacteria known as "listeria monocytogenes" -- a germ that can silently lurk in any raw fish and is the cause of a potentially deadly form of "food poisoning" know as "Listeriosis". When contracted during pregnancy, says Bouchez, the listeria bacteria can dramatically increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and premature delivery.

"Even if a woman heeds the FDA recommendation to limit albacore tuna consumption [and other suggested fish] to just 6 ounces weekly, if that fish is not properly prepared, more importantly, if it is consumed raw in a dish known as "sushi" danger can lurk in even a single ounce," says Bouchez, who's new book is filled with dietary, health and lifestyle advice for pregnant women.

While she is clear in pointing out that fish consumption in general is healthy, and that "sushi" itself isn't automatically contaminated with this bacteria, the fact that it is served raw means the risk of contamination can be quite high.

"And it's not just raw fish that carries this risk -- so do raw fruits and vegetables, along with processed meats, soft cheeses and unpasturized dairy foods, which are frequently found in Europe," says Bouchez.

To avoid the risks in fish dishes, Bouchez says avoid "sushi" and instead opt for canned light tuna, which is not likely to contain any harmful bacteria. To make fruits and vegetables safer during pregnancy, Bouchez emphasizes the need to wash them thoroughly in cold water and if possible use a non-toxic vegetable cleanser for extra safety.

"In addition, be certain to wash all counter tops and utensils after preparing raw fish for cooking, and make certain to wash your hands thoroughly before eating anything -- the listeria bacteria is very hardy and can live on counter tops and appliances for quite a while," cautions Bouchez.

According to Your Perfectly Pampered Pregnancy, symptoms of listeriosis often mimic mild flu-like symptoms, including fever, muscle aches, and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea. If the infection spreads to the nervous system it may also result in headache, stiff neck, or even convulsions.

If you are pregnant and believe you have contracted the listeria bacteria, Bouchez says don't try to self-treat. Instead, call your doctor right away.

For more tips and important pregnancy health advice visit Pampering Mom.